Immediate Past President of CIWM, Dr Adam Read, FCIWM, Chief Sustainability & External Affairs Officer at SUEZ, discusses how the sector can attract future talent.
Getting into schools to talk about recycling isn’t just good for the planet, it’s good for our sector’s image and can help attract the talented, skilled people we will need in the future.
My interest in green skills takes me to lots of places, from committee rooms in Westminster to the CIWM offices in Northampton, but one question crops up again and again: how can we make our industry more attractive and encourage people into it?
Too many people see waste as a dirty end-of-pipe job, not the exciting, transitional green career path that we know it is. One way we can change this view is to get our message across at a much earlier age so that children coming through primary and secondary education (and their parents) consider the waste industry a great place to be.
In recent years, the demand for “visiting experts” to run a session, lesson, assembly or after-school club on sustainability has grown exponentially. As valuable as these activities are, however, such one-offs aren’t going to change the hearts and minds of the nation’s 10-year-olds, or convince our 16-year-olds that they should embrace a waste sector apprenticeship or follow a green-tech university course.
We need a much bigger programme of engagement, aligned with the national curriculum at all key stages and across all core subjects.
We need a much bigger programme of engagement, aligned with the national curriculum at all key stages and across all core subjects. This should position green science, human environmental impact, and the opportunities, technologies and business models of the waste sector at the heart of our next generation’s education. Only then might they see our sector – along with green manufacturing, green transport and green power – as a positive career choice.
One of the priorities of the Green Jobs Delivery Group, on which I sit, is to clarify the scale of opportunity that our sectors have for jobs and skills, and help develop exemplary career pathways. We need to show that the skills we need (IT, materials, behaviours, change management, chemistry, engineering, communications) are not only in high demand, but will be well-paid, fulfilling and rewarding careers.
I would encourage every one of you to speak to your employer about which outreach programmes they support. Reach out to your professional body, which might be linked to the STEM programme or another scheme designed to make real-world jobs and skills visible to those in education. Perhaps they can identify a careers event, job fair, skills workshop or interview practice session that you could support? Or contact schools and colleges near where you live or work.
I have delivered hundreds of sessions, site visits, careers workshops and mentoring support to schools, colleges and universities. I hope my input has helped change the perspective of one or two students – but I can’t change attitudes and beliefs on my own. This is why I need you, and the Green Jobs Delivery Group, to encourage more ambassadors to showcase the opportunities in critical-resource management and the wider circular economy.
We need to put our skills and sector needs into the training programmes of tomorrow.
We need to put our skills and sector needs into the training programmes of tomorrow. Time is running out. We can’t have a net zero resources sector by 2040 unless we make it happen – and changing the sector’s brand and the perception of it by those beyond its boundaries is a huge part of that.
It was great to see so many people at my presidential dinner who I had taught, mentored or recruited in this fantastic sector. Maybe, in a few years, I will meet an entrepreneur, technologist or manager who remembers being at school in 2023 and hearing an inspirational talk by a CIWM ambassador who predicted the rise of repair, reuse and recirculation. Now, that would be the biggest buzz ever!