Skills for the future

The sector faces many challenges in the next 10 years. Intelisos director Sarahjane Widdowson and Suez Recycling and Recovery UK external affairs director Dr Adam Read consider the skills needed to meet these demands.

The climate crisis; digital transformation; rapid urbanisation; mounting resource pressures; shifting policy landscape; global pandemics; and Brexit – these are all shaping the UK.

While we are used to rapidly changing policy and operating environments in the resources and waste sector, the next 10 years have the potential to bring the most dramatic change in our lifetime. Change creates challenges and opportunities. The sector’s workforce must be ready to meet and overcome these challenges, while rising to the opportunities for new skills, business models, and services and facilities.

Equipping our sector with the right skills for the future will be central to ensuring we’re prepared for this transition, as well as to underpinning the green recovery being proposed for the UK.

In 2020, many of us have had to reflect on our existing skills and consider what we may need for the immediate future, using the time during lockdown to acquire new skills, and for online learning and peer-to-peer mentoring. In parallel, organisations have had to accelerate their digital capabilities, and upskill and support staff to enable them to work more effectively from home.

Although there will always be a need for some forms of waste management, it will be the management of resources that will take priority in the future

Although it’s difficult to predict the future, we understand some challenges that we will face over the next 10 years and, at the heart of these, is delivering a green recovery and a more circular economy. Our sector will play a key role in combating the climate crisis and protecting valuable resources, and we must ensure we have the right skills to do this.

A recent study by Zero Waste Scotland noted that one in 10 jobs in Scotland is related to the circular economy,1 covering areas such as repairing and recycling goods, and design and technology.

Although there will always be a need for some forms of waste management, it will be the management of resources that will take priority in the future. This transition will offer opportunities to collaborate with other sectors – by influencing their design, harvesting their materials, or feeding their supply chains with secondary resources – and showcase our skills.

If we can influence the system, and work with designers, technologists, data scientists, chemists and behavioural specialists, we will be able to support the much-needed changes in society and industry, and to amplify its impact.

The UK Resource Council has a key role to play in this transition, championing the sector and showcasing how essential it is to supporting other areas of our economy in achieving a green recovery and net-zero carbon.

Moving forward

CIWM is looking at the transition to a resource-focused sector, and how it can better align with the changing and growing number of members at different levels and experience. Since its launch in May, the online mentoring platform has supported many people in learning more about the various facets of our sector and upskilling opportunities.

Members have also had the opportunity to listen to webinars and contribute to the community connect platform. Sharing knowledge and skills has been an important way to link up with other members and give back to our sector, and this will be actively supported in 2021.

The annual insights report by current CIWM president Trevor Nicoll created a Green Careers Toolkit,2 a practical resource to help equip and inspire secondary school students to consider careers in the resource and waste management sector.

Encouraging students to take an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and highlighting the skills needed to transition to a low-carbon economy, will help secure the next generation of resource specialists. Many CIWM members do this through their employers or their own efforts, and CIWM will continue to encourage and support this.

Education has also been the focus of several recent reports on skills and the green recovery, in particular the Aldersgate Group report,3 which highlighted that government policy, business and the education system have key roles to play in developing future skills.

We must plan for the future as a sector, as a professional body and as individuals. We also need to drive change now within our current workforce, so the theme of the next presidential report (2021-22), when Dr Adam Read takes the reins, will consider skills for the future.

We must plan for the future as a sector, as a professional body and as individuals. We also need to drive change now within our current workforce, so the theme of the next CIWM presidential report (2021-22), when Dr Adam Read takes the reins as CIWM President, will consider skills for the future. It will help CIWM to equip its members and the wider sector with the right skills to build an inclusive, competitive and more circular economy.

The project team will conduct interviews with CIWM members through to spring 2021, and would welcome your insights. Interviews with key figures from aligning sectors will also be conducted to understand their predictions for the future, the skills needed for a green recovery, and opportunities for collaboration. This will drive innovation in services and facilities in the resource sector, and require specific skill sets to come to the fore.

Early feedback has shown that softer and transferable skills have become increasingly important during the Covid-19 pandemic, and this trend is unlikely to slow. The pandemic has highlighted the need for change and crisis management, entrepreneurial thinking and effective leadership, as well as good project management skills.

From a technical perspective, climate and digital literacy will be increasingly important, coupled with the need to think in systems rather than silos.

Shifting policies and priorities are also the focus of attention for members, highlighting the need to learn more about supply chains and manufacturing to better understand resource flows, so our sector can play its optimum role to maximum effect. Planning and infrastructure have been recurring themes, too, underlining that the sector lacks skilled planners, without whom we won’t get the right infrastructure in the right places.

There are clearly huge challenges to overcome, but, together, we can create a strategy for doing this. Time is running out, however. We need to invest in our future and equip our sector with the skills to lead the resource revolution. Everyone has a role to play, so please seize the opportunity to contribute.

  • If you would like to put forward your thoughts, get in touch on or or contribute to the skills thread on CIWM Connect.
  • Listen to the CIWM and Suez debate about the skills needed for a green recovery here.


  1. The future of work, Zero Waste Scotland,
  2. Green Careers Toolkit, CIWM,
  3. Upskilling the UK workforce for the 21st century, Aldersgate Group,

This article first appeared in the Nov/Dec 2020 issue of Circular.

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