Green skills: Identifying skills gaps in the waste sector

green skills

CIWM trainer Jane Hall, Director, Green Edge Applications, looks at how the fast pace of change is creating green skills gaps in the waste industry and identifies what the solution is.

As we transition from a linear economy to a circular economy, the waste industry is experiencing rapid change because of climate change and the important role the waste industry plays in the delivery of both organisational and government strategies.

New technologies are becoming more embedded into the operations of waste organisations, and employees within the sector have had to adapt to a digital working environment. At the heart of this exists a raft of regulatory changes at a pace which is difficult to keep up with. This is all leading to a gap in the new skills required by businesses.

This is all leading to a gap in the new skills required by businesses.

It is widely recognised that there are risks to businesses, both within and outside of the waste sector, if we do not address these green skills gaps. When an organisation plans their training needs, all members of staff should be made aware of the organisation’s environmental duties, set by both regulatory and internal corporate standards.

There is a direct link between environmental performance and sustainability training. “Green Human Resource Management”, where sustainability is a key part of an overall training and development structure for all employees, is a crucial next step towards transitioning to a circular economy.

Green skills: What are the barriers to learning?

Green skills

There are multifaceted barriers to learning green skills. Firstly, there is a very wide range of education levels within the waste sector, including people without any formal education. While there are wider social issues at play, one significant barrier to learning is people who did not have a good experience at school perhaps being hesitant to engage with education as an adult.

Secondly, waste sites are focused on operational duties. Staff members may not have access to a laptop, and given the essential role that waste sites play, it may be challenging to release staff for a full day of training. Profit margins are tight, and employees have limited “spare time” to access training.

Thirdly, there are logistical challenges to attending face-to-face training. Either staff would need to travel significant distances to a training centre, or a trainer would visit the site which would involve taking members of staff offline to attend training. This is unlikely to work for many operational sites.

A combination of methods is needed to bring waste and sustainability training to audiences in a flexible format.

Given the availability of technology such as eLearning packages and video conferencing, developing flexible training using a variety of platforms breaks down these barriers making training more available to a wider audience.

Making easy adaptations, such as including voice recordings as well as written text, improves accessibility. Training should also be broken down into manageable lessons to make starting a course feel less daunting.

A combination of training methods is needed to bring waste and sustainability knowledge to audiences in a flexible format.

Who should receive green skills training?

green skills training

Demonstrating competency is a mandatory requirement for all operators of permitted or licenced sites in the UK.

Many organisations arrange training for Technically Competent Managers (TCMs) as there are specific requirements for their presence on waste sites. Larger organisations may also have environment managers or environmental teams who receive waste and environmental training.

All members of an organisation can impact the environment, in both a positive and negative way, for example:

  • Purchasing teams decide which equipment to buy. For example, they can buy reusable or easy-to-recycle products, or plant and equipment which uses energy, water or other resources efficiently.
  • Human resources teams have a significant role to play in hiring professionals with environmental skills or developing these skills in the existing workforce.
  • Operatives need to appreciate how their role affects the environment, by running plant and equipment efficiently, carrying out and recording inspections, pro-active maintenance, and preventing incidents by doing their jobs safely and in a way which protects the environment.
  • Senior management and directors need to embed sound environmental practices into the heart of the organisation by developing robust procedures and empowering their staff with environmental management roles.

The skills required to ensure the whole organisation operates in an environmentally responsible manner can be delivered through regular green skills training programmes that embed a culture of environmental stewardship throughout all levels of staff.

After all, how are we going to tackle the climate crisis if we don’t understanding the underlying causes and how our actions can protect the environment?

What can the waste industry do for you?

Veolia waste collection

CIWM (Chartered Institution of Wastes Management) members collectively share a wealth of knowledge on the waste sector and a wide range of other industries. Over time there has been an increased interest in waste from outside the waste industry which needs to be seized. Training enquiries now come from a wide range of sectors and experts in the waste industry can offer guidance to organisations outside of the waste sector.

Confusion exists that prohibits the development of a circular economy. For example, which materials can and can’t be recycled, the merits of compostable or biodegradable plastics, how to clean recyclable materials to boost recyclability, “wishcycling”, well-intended upcycling which often renders recyclable materials non-recyclable and how to design packaging so that it can be collected at kerbside and readily recycled.

We need to work with other sectors to ensure that this knowledge is shared by training people outside of the waste industry to help recyclers keep materials in the circular economy for longer and to reduce the overall amount of waste we dispose of.

Training enquiries now come from a wide range of sectors.

Waste brokers, carriers and dealers also have a unique role to play in developing the circular economy. While the sector is plagued with tales of poor standards and fraudulent activity, waste-producing organisations are becoming more demanding of waste management companies to ensure that their waste is recycled and that they are not implicated in sending their waste to non-compliant disposal routes.

Later this year, a technical competence element for waste carriers, brokers and dealers (and other key roles) within the waste industry is being introduced. The Independent Review into Serious and Organised Crime in the Waste Sector in 2018 highlighted “the extent to which waste is handled by an increasing number of, often opaque, intermediaries”.

The review recommended that “registration and duty of care requirements for carriers, brokers and dealers should be reformed.” Improving competency is a key element of this reform process to raise standards and ensure compliance with new regulatory controls.

Green skills: What is the strategy?

Sustainablity

The UK government recognises that there is an opportunity to create new “green” jobs and to be at the forefront of developing new green technologies. Ensuring that the skills are available to deliver on net zero targets will be a key component to success. The government’s ambition is to support up to nearly 0.5 million jobs across “net zero” industries in 2030.

To address the skills gap within the waste sector, in June 2021, CIWM’s then President (2021-2022), Dr Adam Read, launched the Institution’s Skills for the Future report, which outlined the key skills needed by the waste and resources sector to develop a circular economy.

CIWM have also established a “Skills for the Future working group” and launched its free-to-access Skills Matrix which provides professional and career development guidance across the UK waste, recycling and resource management sector.

What does the future look like?

net zero

The waste industry has a significant wealth of expertise and knowledge to offer those outside of our sector. However, getting this information to the right people in the right way can be challenging.

Engaging employees with environmental training is also challenging with many barriers deterring organisations and individual learners from participating.

Providing waste and environmental training to a wider audience within an organisation is an essential strategy for improving environmental performance through increased employee engagement as we strive towards meeting governmental and organisational environmental goals.

We need to make it easier for organisations to complete training in a way which suits their staff to break down barriers to learning.

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