The future for Waste Management Jobs
The future for Waste Jobs
A leading Waste Management company predicts an estimated 50-80 million tonnes of additional 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 to less than 10 million tonnes per year by 2020. With landfill tonnages decreasing so dramatically, we expect to see an equally sharp rise in the need for skilled, long-term jobs in the Waste Management & Recycling sector. Every tonne of waste diverted from landfill into activities involving re-use, recycling or energy recovery has the capacity to generate new jobs, since these activities are generally more resource-intensive than operating a landfill.
Based on staffing levels typical of the sector, and using a multiplier of 1.35 to estimate the number of indirect jobs from the number of direct jobs, this infrastructure programme would create between 19,000 and 36,000 new direct jobs by 2020, over and above the approximately 128,000 staff currently employed in the sector. In 25,000 and addition, between 48,000 new indirect jobs could be created throughout the UK (Friends of the Earth, ‘More Jobs Less Waste’).
There is a general recognition that the available skills base is unlikely to keep pace with the expected speed of transformation, and that the Waste Management & Recycling sector has to respond by planning for the impending skills gap. Added to the number of new direct jobs that the sector will create are the challenges of re-skilling and up-skilling the existing workforce and of replacing staff lost through retirement. As the green economy grows, there will also be increased competition within the pool of professionally skilled workers that the sector currently relies on to fulfil its staffing needs. The resource-led transformation of the Waste Management & Recycling sector is a permanent structural shift, so skill needs are not transitory, but rather for the long-term.
It is perhaps salutary to reflect on the fact that, as new technologies take over in areas that were indeed once generally low skilled, almost all of the training and skills are provided by the technology suppliers rather than industry itself. This is a little like garages being entirely dependent on mechanics sent by the motor manufacturers for car repairs to take place – not a good place to be in for the longer-term. In any event, we should be acutely aware that the waste and resources industry is no different to other low-training sectors; that putting out jobs and hoping to capture people who can fill them will lead inevitably to others deciding that they can do the same to the waste industry when their needs are not being met. Clearly, structuring programmes of training within industry, and developing the means to attract people into careers in the waste and resources industry, rather than offering just jobs, will be vital.
So, not only must the industry be receptive to the need for more training, and more skilled staff, but policy must support the transformation in the waste ‘skills profile’ by ensuring new technologies have access to the investment and infrastructure they need to create the thousands of highly-skilled jobs the waste sector has the potential to provide. I am aware that one of the greatest complaints of the sector over the last few years has been against ‘policy uncertainty’ creating risk, or a perception of risk, for external investors. In this sense the best way in which policy can support the transition to a more highly skilled, and attractive, waste industry would be through well-thought-through, long-term policy initiatives that remain technology neutral, but offer support where nascent sectors are struggling to get off the ground. Being able to put real money and resource into developing sector skills and a career based industry will be a vital next step: it is a challenge both to the industry to kick start it, and to Government to ensure that such plans are fully supported.
With 84,000 new Waste Management & Recycling sector jobs expected within the sector over the next decade, it is clear that new opportunities are being created all the time.
Therefore, given current high unemployment levels, is this ‘available workforce’ fit-for-task to meet the waste sector’s growing labour demand? Thus, unsurprisingly, much initial investment has been in approximately 200 Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs), each with around 40 staff operating conveyors, trommels, shredders, balers and other equipment. Reliance on low grade manual skills has given way to investment in sophisticated measuring, monitoring , diversion and integration telemetry systems often copied from the food process industries – experienced in handling multi-material blending, except that now the emphasis has shifted to separation and grading. With 40 million tonnes already diverted from landfill (and a further 20 million tonnes available) it is likely that up to 60% of the 60 million tonnes of feedstock will ultimately pass through MRFs. Thus their numbers will continue to rise and they will continue to create jobs.