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Reach higher levels

More from: Need for new blood

With the rise of new technologies such as anaerobic digestion and mechanical biological treatment, and the increased sophistication of the processes involved, there is an expectation that skills levels within the waste management industry will need to increase.

More technically qualified staff will be required to design, operate and maintain these technologies. The industry will also need to supplement traditional skillsets with additional ones. 

As waste increasingly acquires value as a resource, there will be a much broader requirement for strategic and commercial thinking. Along with increased awareness of regulatory and legislative changes, skills in waste brokering will be a key addition to managerial skills.

Sales and marketing will come to the fore as waste and its by-products are sold to a variety of markets. As firms seek new markets overseas for recyclates, an understanding of international contracts will be required and language skills could also be advantageous.

Managers will need to liaise with designers, manufacturers and reprocessors to ensure the waste being processed is of the highest possible quality.

By increasing project and performance management skills, and exploring processes which offer the best value, senior managers can lead transformational change. Supervisors will need to acquire skills in internal auditing and reporting, knowledge of quality management systems, and an understanding of waste law, along with more financial awareness.

All this means that graduates with degrees not traditionally associated with the sector, such as law, could be invaluable to management.

Historically, career progression into supervisory and managerial roles in the industry has been based on time served and experience. There is therefore a need for more management and leadership training at this level, to help those in such roles manage more complex processes and a more diverse workforce.

But all levels of the workforce will need to become more skilled.

New skills may already be in use in other process-driven industries such as fast-moving consumer goods, water and power, and so these can be added into existing waste skillsets. Processors need training in the grading of recyclables and the avoidance of contamination.

Across the industry, knowledge must constantly be updated as technologies, processes and their requirements change. Facing long-term goals and a new policy landscape, as well as materials security issues, the sector can only continue to evolve.

The waste workforce is not just expected to become more highly skilled, but 15 times as many people are required to recycle a tonne of waste than are needed to landfill it.

So how can these new skills be brought in? They can be recruited and combined in multi-disciplinary project teams, driving change in the short-term. But over time this may prove unsustainable, given the potential size of the future waste workforce.

The industry might also choose to use consultants to set up systems operable by non-specialists. A more sustainable long-term solution might be to offer accelerated training in new specialities to individuals within the existing workforce.

The industry is collaborating to develop solutions to this challenge.

EU Skills is working with the Waste Management, Recycling and Resource Recovery Industry Skills Initiative to address issues through the development of tools such as the EU Skills Workforce Planning model.

The sector skills body, in collaboration with employers, has also developed an apprenticeship in sustainable resource management to upskill existing employees as well as new recruits. A Higher Skills Strategy is also being developed to ensure better outputs from higher education.

Neil Robertson, chief executive, Energy and Utility Skills

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 fullor contact the Group on

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