Skills, competences and the effective workforce of tomorrow

12th July 2021 Posted by

Blog by Dr Adam Read, Director of External Affairs at SUEZ recycling and recovery UK and President of CIWM.

Priorities are shifting

Staff shortages have been in the news in recent weeks, with HGV drivers now in huge demand from distribution companies, supermarkets and of course the waste and resource sector. Is this a lack of people or a lack of skills? It’s a bit of both, but must be contextualised given both BREXIT and COVID have meant many non-British drivers have not been available, whilst others have been sick or shielding.

Is this a long term problem? Probably not, but we must plan for it in the short term and as a sector we are working closely with other sectors with a huge haulage demand to give government a clear message about what must be done – from loosening restrictions on the frequency of re-tests for current drivers, to fast-tracking tests for new drivers.

This has highlighted the criticality of many businesses – just look at the hospitality sector and their visible concerns about having the right staff to reopen in the coming weeks, of the right staff with the right skills in the right place and time, after all we can’t all become an HGV driver in a week!

But if we look a little further ahead, beyond the immediate sector concerns, what skills, competences and knowledge will our sector need?

Skills for the future

I am flattered that early in July 2021 I was elected as the Chartered Institution of Waste Management’s (CIWM) 105th President, a role that for the next 12 months will see me chairing many online and hopefully face to face technical meetings and conferences, attending government liaison and industry wide working groups and raising the profile of our sector with other sectors and prospective members. I am the third SUEZ employee to hold this prestigious role, after Brian Carter (1987) and John Leaver (1994), and it fits nicely alongside my day job of external affairs, government influencing, industry engagement and webinar hosting. Hopefully it will be good for CIWM, good for SUEZ and good for me, albeit I can see myself being even busier than normal!

My presidential theme (and report), which was launched at an online conference on 2nd July 2021 is ‘skills for the future’. In the report we analysed a number of significant trends, interviewed experts in and beyond our sector, and mapped out all of the policy reforms we could see to identify the skills the sector will need over the next five years as we address the significant policy reforms in our sector (from DRS and EPR to consistent collections) and the following five year period as we begin to transition away from our current recycling economy to one that is more carbon focused, and more circular.

We will need a mix of better communications and behavioural change skills, people who are more data focused and can utilise information technology to improve decision-making, people who can do systems thinking and work beyond traditional silos to see how value chains can work better, those with business skills in delivering circular economy business models and servitisation (buy a service not a product), greater capabilities around repairing products and refill systems rather than buying products and packaging (think Loop or refillable cereal boxes at the supermarket) and of course a host of soft skills. Soft skills are key to enabling us to rapidly adapt to the changing policy and consumer demands of 2025 and beyond, and they include things like leadership, project management, change management as well as good communications. These are core competences that our workforce will need at all levels to be impactful in the future.


Over the next five years our front line recycling collection teams will have to be more focused on quality control and feedback to our household and business customers, so our MRF and Transfer Station based teams will need to support the move to more segregated material flows and increased tonnages with more AI intervention and support.

The policy reforms we have been consulting on in recent months (see my last blog) will require better data and more robust evidence, whist new data tools and online reporting will drive the sector forward as we strive for 70% recycling and an associated reduction in material consumption. Having teams that are prepared for these new challenges will keep us ahead of the game and ensure any transition is smooth and pain free!

Transferable skills will be paramount in the new resource-efficient world. We will look to draw on skills for other sectors, but more importantly we will build our own expertise and cascade it through the business. If you work in accounts, marketing, communications, data management you will have skills that are needed, and skills that can be developed and honed.

If you are a driver, a materials handler, or a commodity trader there will be many more opportunities to work across the business as materials become the new currency in a resource focused economy.

And as a business, SUEZ is at the forefront of people development, recognising the critical value our people provide. The Talent Up Learning Management System is a great vehicle to assist or Learning and Development Department in the development of  core competences  new skills and opportunities within the business. Our training programmes are developed not in isolation of the sector and its changing demands but with our customers and other experts

We will continue to horizon scan future sector demands and map our development and training programmes to meet these head on, and I am proud of what SUEZ has achieved and continues to deliver, after all I am passionate about continued education, training and development.

My personal agenda

The next 12 months will be busy as I juggle my day job with the needs of the ESA and now the CIWM, but what a great time to be in our sector, with so many new opportunities and a clear path towards a circular economy.

I have already given evidence on green jobs and the green recovery to the Environment Audit Committee and will speaking to a number of government Bodies in coming weeks about upskilling and retraining needs to meet the ‘net zero carbon’ agenda.

I will be setting up a new CIWM Skills for the Future Working Group (if you are interested let us know) to help us understand the skills and competences of tomorrow better. I will be working closely with CIWM staff on their expanding professional standards framework (along with other professional bodies like IEMA, IOM3, CIM) so skills and learning are more transferable from one disciple to another. That will be good news for everyone.

As some of you know, I have spent much of my professional life mentoring and coaching the workforce of tomorrow, from my time as an undergraduate tutor and postgraduate research supervisor to my CIWM, ISWA and more recently SUEZ mentoring programmes, and I get a huge buzz out of seeing people making careers for themselves and maximising their potential.

SUEZ is equally passionate about helping you to make the most of your talents and by creating the right opportunities and focusing on core skills and competences the transformation we are facing should provide huge opportunities for us all. So let’s embrace change, let’s look forward with positivity, and let’s not forget that your career and your development is nobody’s responsibility other than your own. If you are ready to make it happen, then I am sure we can find you a mentor, coach or training opportunity to support you.

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