Webinar highlights | Green skills for a better tomorrow

Last Friday, SUEZ hosted a webinar on the topic of Green skills for a better tomorrow, chaired by Dr Adam Read. Adam was joined by four expert panellists – Sarahjane Widdowson from Intelisos, Katie Cockburn from CIWM, Fiona Dear from The Restart Project and SUEZ colleague, Claire Townsend. They came together to discuss the sector’s transition over the last decade in relation to the demand and supply of skills, the current roles and competencies needed by the sector, and importantly how we can get our sector skills ready for the future – a low carbon, resource efficient and more circular future at that.

The past
Historically the waste and resources has had challenges attracting talent. With issues including the perception of working with waste and limited technological advancement. A view echoed by 39% of the webinar audience, who identified changing the sector’s image as being the most essential activity for delivering a green workforce.

The present
So where are we today? A poll during the webinar identified barriers facing our transition to a net zero society. Receiving 37% of the audience vote, the greatest barrier selected was education, specifically that traditional education pathways are not aligned with the jobs and skills required for the transitioning sector. Sarahjane Widdowson shared with the audience the new CIWM report – which looks to forecast sector needs up to 2040. The report outlines a huge number of jobs and skills required across a diverse repertoire of roles, from communications specialists to repair technicians. The report highlights the breadth of opportunities available within the sector and with the criticality of working with government and schools to prepare the workforce of tomorrow for the opportunities ahead.

Twenty seven percent of the respondants chose sector attractiveness to be the main barrier for transition to a more circular economy. Following the result, Katie Cockburn explained that CIWM are proactively working to develop content for all phases of schooling to engage young people early. Sarahjane added that currently there is a lack of good content on career advisory websites across the nations to communicate some of the less traditional roles within the sector that will be essential in supporting a transition to a more circular economy. This is an area that CIWM’s Skills for the Future Working Group, chaired by Dr Adam Read, is looking to address in the short-term.

The future
The William Gibson quote – “The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet” was a sentiment shared by all the panellists. Fiona explained that the transition has already begun with many roles currently available within the repair market that are being left unfilled due to a skill shortage within the country. From working with Restart parties, repair cafes and community shops, she has found that many of the volunteers had a ‘lifetime of tinkering’ experience rather than a recognised course, which is hard to replicate and scale. She explained that as an organisation, they are currently developing a ‘fast track fixing course’ to teach basic skills required to fix many small electrical items that are currently being sent for disposal.

Katie Cockburn also shared CIWM’s two new membership schemes designed to engage and inspire a new generation of waste and resource managers. The new ‘learner’ membership is free to anyone studying a CIWM course with the hope that they continue to contribute to the institute once they have completed their studies. The new ‘technical’ membership has been designed to reflect the everchanging technological landscape within the sector, with a diverse range of specialist skills in new areas such as chemistry and engineering.

Claire Townsend, Resourcing Manager at SUEZ, emphasised that there was not only a need to improve sector attractiveness for new recruits but talent currently within the sector needs to be supported to reach their full potential with the possibility of upskilling or reskilling. She explained the work that SUEZ’s Learning and Development team were conducting to improve skillsets within the business to aid the green transition. This ranged from improving circular and carbon literacy, to mentoring, new apprenticeships and collaboration with Universities and other companies. A successful joint apprenticeship programme was delivered with Unilever, which brought together packaging designers with waste managers to design packaging for online retail that better reflects downstream collection, end of life management and enhanced repairability, refillability and recyclability.

How can you contribute to the future of the green skills transition?

Becoming a CIWM member enables you to share your insights, give feedback, and collaborate with other waste professionals on this green transition, with all the potential opportunities it will afford. CIWM are always looking for enthusiastic volunteers in a whole host of roles including mentoring and creating and delivering content for young people.

To summarise, the sector is facing it’s most exciting and challenging decade and we need to be ‘skills ready’ to support the transition required. We all need to be ambassadors for our sector.

Watch the full Green skills for a better tomorrow webinar recording.