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Need for new blood

More from: Need for new blood

SITA UK’s model predictions estimate that 50-80 million tonnes of additional waste treatment capacity will be required annually by 2020 for the main categories of treatment, with landfill tonnages expected to decline from about 25 million tonnes in 2010/11 to less than 10 million tonnes a year by 2020.

This infrastructure programme would create 19,000-36,000 direct jobs by 2020 in addition to the 128,000 staff currently employed. Also, between 25,000 and 48,000 indirect UK jobs could be created.

Fewer than 10 years ago, almost 90% of collected waste went directly to landfill , and the sector’s traditional skills base focused primarily on the needs of waste collection and landfill. 

Civil and mechanical engineers are employed as landfill designers and site managers, supplemented by vocationally trained supervisory and operational staff. Chemists and environmental scientists complete the current skills landscape. The sector has also had non-landfill operations employing professional chemists and mechanical engineers. 

But this is changing. The resource-oriented direction of the sector has transformed its skills requirements and the dynamics of supply and demand. Deployment of processing technologies has led to a demand for operational staff with a process-related background. 

With the sector increasingly reliant on the sale of recyclates or recovered power made out of this processed material, there is a growing demand for staff with a background in procurement, sales and commodity trading. 

Skill requirements for managers and supervisors have also changed, with greater emphasis on customer management, product quality, budgetary control and financial modelling.

The move to industrial-type waste facilities has meant the risks faced by sector workers have changed significantly. This has required a radical rethink of health and safety training and the soft management skills of managers and supervisors.

New skills are also required of customer-facing staff, such as sales representatives or back-office staff fielding queries.

The sector has continued to rely on transferable skills drawn from other sectors, especially to fill supervisory and middle-management roles. Similarly, experience gained in the retail or service sectors is invaluable in helping to develop more sophisticated services in the resource sector. An injection of fresh blood is to be welcomed.

In relying on the influx of personnel from other sectors, the sustainable resource sector has had to review its remuneration structures relative to equivalent positions in the host sectors. In most cases this has meant upward revision of pay scales.

There is a general recognition that the available skills base is unlikely to keep pace with the expected speed of transformation, so the sector has to plan for the impending skills gap. Companies are mapping out a timeline by which specific skills need to be in place, and then formalising recruitment and personal development goals. 

Companies are collaborating with educational institutions to develop bespoke technical and managerial training courses, and establish an intake of graduates and apprentices to be given in-house training.

To satisfy skills requirements, the sector must plan ahead. It needs a steady intake of graduates and engineers to operate new technologies. Professionalism in the management of sites and businesses must be raised. This can be achieved through positioning the sector as an attractive, long-term option for the skilled workers vital to its development.

Dr Gev Eduljee, external affairs director, SITA

This piece is taken from the Associate Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group’s collection of essays ‘Sustainable skills: The future of the waste management industry’. Please click here to read the report in full or contact the Group on

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