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Tomorrow’s world

More from: Need for new blood

I read an excellent blog recently, Want to change the world? Stop solving yesterday’s problems. It struck me that the UK waste industry is still dealing with what feels like yesterday’s problem - waste - but that it is also an industry that is highly innovative and forward thinking.

You only have to look at the resource scarcity agenda and the debate around the circular economy to see how it is preparing for the future and thinking beyond waste. Professionals within the sector also have to evolve and change if they are to keep up.

The traditional profile of a waste manager has been someone who deals with waste materials and the cycle of collection, treatment and disposal - an operationally focused environment that has employed significantly more men than women. There have always been women in the sector but the number entering in recent times has increased and their roles have diversified.

Female roles were traditionally within local authority recycling and communications: helping to roll out new schemes and encourage participation. There are now more women in front-line operations, from collections to processing, and in more professional service roles such as client managers, business development and consultancy.

It is still a male-dominated sector compared with many others, but it is positive to see the industry reflecting wider society, and embracing the skills and experience that female engineers, scientists and communicators have to offer.

We are now travelling up the waste hierarchy and rethinking our residues so that they can either be prevented or go on to better things through reuse, recycling or recovery. The sector is now about the entire lifecycle of a product.

Waste management is also an increasing element of many roles beyond traditional environmental professionals and the core waste sector. There are more job specifications with a remit for managing waste issues including corporate social responsibility, facilities and design.

Different sectors are now becoming major players within the industry such as the hospitality and food, retail and manufacturing sectors, opening career options.

Also, today’s graduates are more work-ready than ever before thanks to the skills they develop in their undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Computer literacy and communication skills are integral, which makes them valuable for employers.

Social media has played a significant role in communication, and has opened doors for new entrants and those established within the sector. The ability to communicate directly with individuals and organisations and create a sector profile is powerful.

Today’s competitive jobs market is also pushing students and career changers to gain work experience and develop transferable skills early to differentiate themselves from the competition.

So what about the future? Although I am not quite ready to remove ‘waste’ from my job title, I will add ‘resource’ to it to reflect the sector’s continuing transition.

When I told my mother I had got a job in waste management, she responded that I would have a job for life as “there will always be waste to deal with”. I think I will have a job for life - not because there will always be waste as we know it now, but because once you have entered the sector you recognise what a vibrant place it is to work.

Sarahjane Widdowson, principal consultant, AEA

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

The APSRG is the leading forum informing the debate between Parliamentarians, business leaders and the sustainable resource community on the crucial policy issues affecting sustainable resource management in the UK.

Its mission is to provide an objective platform for effective communication between policy-makers, businesses and organisations with an interest in the sustainable resource management agenda and to raise awareness of sustainable resource issues within Parliament.

For further information on the sustainable skills essays, contact APSRG on 0207 202 8573 or



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