Students' first tour of the world of work and the green economy

Dr Tracey Leghorn
by Dr Tracey Leghorn, Chief Business Services Officer | SUEZ recycling and recovery UK

One of the great pleasures my role provides is meeting young people and discussing their aims and aptitudes, and potential future careers, whether in waste management or any other industry.

Two weeks ago, I had that chance when 15 engineering students at Trafford College took part in our new work placement programme. With campuses in Altrincham and Stretford, the college offers a wide career-focused curriculum from A-levels, GCSEs, and apprenticeships, to community learning, higher education, and vocational/technical qualifications, including T-levels.

Our new collaboration has grown from several roots. Greater Manchester is an important base for SUEZ recycling and recovery UK. Under our contract with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, we manage waste across its nine metropolitan boroughs. As outlined in previous posts, our company is committed to social value. So, we measure the community benefits we generate and, to maximise them, we are adapting our business model.

The Greater Manchester partnership exemplifies this. We are pioneering a new approach to reuse that is good for the community, the local economy and the environment. SUEZ has developed and equipped a central Renew Hub, where local people have been employed and trained to refurbish household goods. These are re-sold at affordable prices through a network of Renew shops and online, and proceeds are reinvested locally in good causes.

SUEZ donates £100,000 each year to the Greater Manchester Mayor’s Charity tackling homelessness, and £220,000 to the Recycle for Greater Manchester (R4GM) community fund. This supports projects by third-sector and community organisations aiming to reduce waste and increase recycling and reuse. SUEZ has also committed to targeting 60% of our supply chain spend on local SMEs and social enterprises.

The immersive week for the aspiring engineers, who are 16-18 years old, serves another purpose – social mobility. Our parent SUEZ Group has long championed social inclusion as one of its sustainable development goals. SUEZ in the UK shares that commitment, and it resonates with me personally and with colleagues who serve communities where young people may be excluded from life’s opportunities, and may, in some cases, share similar backgrounds.

Of course, there is a business case as well as a social purpose for helping people from disadvantaged areas get a foot on the careers ladder. While our society fails to develop all its human capital, our industry desperately needs to attract emerging talent.

When I met the students, I talked through the opportunities available at SUEZ – from apprenticeships to graduate-level entry – and opened their eyes to the variety of worthwhile roles across our diverse business. But as well as an introduction to our company, the week-long programme was designed to provide a stimulating overview of the world of work and the green economy.

Monday began with an outline of the SUEZ business, followed by a team-working activity to identify what they already knew about recycling and the green energy sector. A presentation given by our Chief External Affairs and Sustainability Officer, Dr Adam Read, explained the transformation of our industry and the green agenda. It was followed by a tour of our energy-from-waste facility in Bolton.

On Tuesday, the students – kitted out in hi-vis gear and work boots – toured a materials recycling facility in Gatley, and learned about the central importance of health, safety and wellbeing. Wearing virtual-reality headsets, they could see the real-world risks that arise – for example, when operating trucks and other plant – and the value of PPE and our safety procedures.

Back in college on Wednesday, we explored the job and training opportunities within SUEZ, and presented career case studies of some colleagues. Our HR team also shared CV-writing tips, insights into the mindsets of recruiters and head-hunters, and helped them hone their soft skills in mock interviews. The emphasis was on practical advice they can apply whatever direction they take on leaving college.

The group moved on to our Bolton workshop on Thursday. Several of our SUEZ apprentices are employed here and activities range from fabricating bins to vehicle repairs. Members of our Business Transformation Team were also on hand to explain the role of our Lean academy in driving continuous improvement. There was another team exercise involving an engineering challenge in the afternoon – building and testing a Statapult.

The programme ended with time at our Renew Hub in Trafford Park with its repair pods for household goods – from furniture to electrical appliances. After reviewing the entire process, including the click-and-collect sales system, the students had the chance to engage in some hands-on upcycling, involving upholstery and bicycle maintenance. Then it was back to campus for a final Q&A session.

We have been delighted to see and share the enthusiasm of these young people and stimulate their curiosity about the world of work and about careers that serve sustainability and the emerging circular economy.

Our support doesn’t end there. We will follow up with offers of work placements so students can gain experience over several weeks in job roles that are of potential interest. In partnership with the college, we will also provide opportunities to apply for apprenticeships, or internships for those who go on to university.

We will also learn from the feedback they and Trafford College provide and apply the lessons. This is just another stage in our new work placement initiatives. We intend to replicate this immersive introduction to SUEZ and the green economy elsewhere. Our company operates at more than 300 locations across the UK. Local SUEZ teams have expertise to complement our central training and support staff for HR, health & safety, business transformation and other specialisms.

We intend to develop and tailor the programme in partnership with other colleges. As a business, we are committed to the triple bottom line – balancing people, planet and profit. In practice, this can take the form of engaging with schools and colleges, supporting social mobility among young people from all corners of local communities, and inspiring young people to pursue careers with purpose.

It is personally rewarding to hear students’ views and ambitions and discuss these opportunities with them. If they choose our industry and/or SUEZ, their talent will be put to very good use. Whatever their decision, I believe that this immersive programme benefits our youth and ultimately, local communities and society.

Attending the programme on Thursday and spending time with our bright and innovative people of the future was a ‘great day at the office’.