Malcolm Bates Explores the Ups & Downs of Working with Waste

BLOG: Is the Waste & Recycling Industry the Place to Forge a Career

WMW’s Collection & Handling chief editor on a topic worthy of debate: Is the waste and recycling industry a suitable place in which to forge ‘a career’?

Opinion blog Malcolm Bates
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WMW’s Collection & Handling chief editor on a topic worthy of debate: Is the waste and recycling industry a suitable place in which to forge ‘a career’?

I don't mean at the very top as a highly-paid executive with share options and a fat ‘performance bonus’ to look forward to at the end of each year. I mean down the ‘executive food chain’ several rungs. At a level where the work is more ‘physical’. Can waste and recycling be a rewarding career at this level? Or is it – and will it always be – just ‘a job’? Something to turn up for at the start of the shift.

And go home at the end of the shift without giving ‘work’ another thought. At least until the next time.

I ask these questions for several reasons. Partly because the ‘age profile’ of what we might call ‘the manual workers’ in our industry is far higher than in most other sectors. And partly because in many national markets, there is still a feeling that working in the waste and recycling sector is in some way an em- barrassment, should your friends and neighbours find out what you do for a living.

We need to change this viewpoint if we are ever going to attract more younger people to our industry. And I would suggest that we need to do this urgently. And yet, it’s a subject that is hardly discussed in the endless forums, seminars and ‘workshops’ (how I hate that word – surely, ‘a workshop’ is a place where you make or fix things with tools, not where you throw words around?) that I have to attend in the course of my job.

Why is that? Is it because those in government and senior waste industry management haven’t spotted this demographic time bomb yet? Or that they have and just don’t care? At fleet management level, I would argue that it’s crit- ical. We need to attract more, well-educated and intelligent young people to our industry.

Why? Because as any visitor to IFAT this year will be able to confirm, the equipment we use is ever more sophisticated and complex. On-job education courses are essential to show both new recruits and existing staff how the job should be done – and done safely and efficiently.

But at the same time, the manual workers in our industry are the interface with members of the public and the clients of commercial waste contractors. Surely, it would help if they also had training in what is called ‘inter-personal skills’? In other words, how to create a good impression and equally important, how to avoid conflict?

Recently, I was shown an excellent video produced by the Visionscape Group. It was produced as a training aid for the thousands of new waste collection and street cleansing operatives being employed to clean up the city of Lagos in Nigeria.

My own memories of working in downtown Lagos (admit- tedly a while ago) reinforced the scale of the task they faced. But the ‘tone’ of that video managed to instill in the viewer that the project they were part of, was a job that was not only worth doing, but worth doing well.

My point? Would you employ someone off the street to drive your new Ferrari around busy city streets all day, without checking beforehand that they were suitably qualified, experienced and honest, ? And without giving them any instructions? Of course you wouldn’t. A brand new garbage truck, or high- way sweeper costs about the same as a new Ferrari.

See what I’m saying?
Malcolm Bates, Chief Editor

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