'Beam me up Scotty' - the next generation of UK waste managers

Written by: Dr Adam Read | Published:

Each month, Dr Adam Read, practice director for resource efficiency & waste management @ Ricardo Energy & Environment discusses the big issues from his point of view, and this month considers the need to support and develop the next generation of waste & resource maangers and the role that the CIWM has to play in this.

I was fortunate enough to visit the recent CIWM New Members Network Annual Conference in Northampton, with almost 90 of the industry’s brightest, keenest and newest members looking to forge friendships, learn new stuff and contextualise their career path in this fast changing sector.

I commend all of them for being there, and their employers for supporting them; this is a great peer group to be involved with, one which will be with you throughout your career, and an unbelievable good value for money route to developing your career, your skills and your networks – so well done everyone.

The 15th Annual Conference had just the right mix of operational insights, policy debates, crystal ball gazing, and fun – something that shouldn’t be underestimated in our sector. We need to enjoy ourselves as we spend plenty of time working hard, so don’t lose sight of the need for balance, and fully partake in the industry quiz, the team night out, or just lunch time game of sport. The camaraderie in our sector is second to none, and I for one love what I so, who I do it with, and the opportunities afforded to us to combine work and play, and you should too.

This year’s event was themed about ‘the future’ and had a fabulous array of speakers sharing their personal perspectives on where the sector is going. We heard from such eminent sector specialists as Lee Marshall (LARAC) on the changing role for local authorities, Craig Anderson (FRN) on people, welfare and the reuse agenda, Mike Webster (WaseAid) on the global outlook for waste management, and Duncan Simpson (Valpak) on the future of producer responsibility.

Plus there were a number of workshop sessions on hot topics like data, duty of care, and waste crime, a site visit to Milton Keynes’ new MRF, and a final session on getting your career on track. This was the session I presented in, and it was good to see a pretty much ‘full house’ still engaged at 4pm on a Friday afternoon. The organising committee deserve a big thank you from everyone for putting on a great event, and many of the delegates were already planning for the next one, wherever that may be hosted. A good sign if you ask me.

Career long networks

I still enjoy taking part in this event even though I am clearly not new to the sector nor a young member, but I think you are never too old to learn something new, and this was the 13th NMN event that I have participated in since their inception back in 2000.

This year I made sure one of my junior consultants was involved, as I recognise from years gone by just how important the event, and more so the networks you engage with, can be for one’s career development. Over the last 15 years I have supported perhaps 25 of my colleagues to engage and embrace the CIWM’s new generation events, and these people are now fully participating in the sector and the CIWM as an institution, running regional new member groups, sitting on committees or becoming elected trustees. These people are also forging ahead with their careers and are now core to the sector, many of them still supporting me on the consultancy side, and the networks they have developed and the relationships they have founded are still holding strong, often bringing us new opportunities for joint-working, commissioning our team, or asking for us to sit on industry think tanks that need our insights. So as you can see I am a big supporter of enabling the next generation to participate fully in these (and other similar) events, as they have been good for me, and I will continue to support them as best I can.

If we look back to the early NMN events in the ‘noughties’ some of the speakers and regional NMN coordinators have gone on to be CIWM centre councillors, trustees and committee members, and it won’t be long before one of them becomes president. There are a few of us from back then who are now Fellows of the CIWM, so I would expect one or two to be stepping forward in the near future as a presidential candidate, championing the new generation and enabling the Institution to drive head on into the next generation.

So what next? The transition generation?

As we reflect on where our sector will be 10 years from now you can be sure of a few things:

  • Stuff changes, nothing stands still, so expect change and be ready for it, or even better help to influence it
  • The waste sector will be critical in delivering a more circular economy, and with that will be new opportunities for the forging of new careers, needing new skills and expertise – watch out for materials scientists, behavioural changers, supply chain managers, and industry innovators et al
  • Technologies will change, and the scientists who can realise research developments and implement solutions will come to the fore
  • Waste management services will continue to be tested by budget cuts and increasing public demands, so expect four-weekly collections of residual waste to take hold, weekly food waste collections to be the norm, and a plethora of new innovations around producer responsibility and user pays to ensure that waste is adequately funded and managed
  • The CIWM, ESA, Resource Association and other industry bodies will have to adapt and change to keep pace with the sector and that will open up opportunities for new blood, fresh ideas, and a keen and green generation of new waste and resource managers to come to the fore.

So the future is bright, and today’s next generation will be key to the success of our sector in the next decade or two – so buckle up and ‘warp speed ahead Mr Sulu’.

Finally, and on a personal note, I can say that involvement with the CIWM, and of course the new members networks, has been core to my own development. I have been lucky enough to have employers over the years who recognised the value of the site visits, study tours, networking and peer groups development, and I think the time and effort both they and I have afforded the CIWM has been paid back 10-fold. I still win work from people I have known through the NMN events over the last 15 years, I have been best man at a fellow ‘next gen’ wedding, I have developed my own industry relationships with ISWA and the ESA off the back of my experiences with the CIWM, and of course I met my partner Sue way back in 2000 in Loughborough at the inaugural CIWM next generation event – ‘boldly going where no man had gone before’!

So, each and everyone one of you reading this please take up the challenge. We are the next generation and we must support the generation of waste and resource managers beyond that. So don’t make excuses to not let your junior staff have a day off for training and network development, make them outline the benefits of attending and put forward a business case for the investment needed by all means (I know I do) but don’t block their involvement - the peer groups and relationships they develop early on in the careers will definitely hold them in good stead for the rest of their careers, and a 30-year rewards period sounds like good value for money to me.

But if you are finding it hard to get the support you need, ‘set your phasers to stun Mr Spock’ and look elsewhere. The CIWM has mentors willing to give of their time freely to help support the next generation, from careers advise, to training and ‘door opening’ so if you want to be the next Jean Luc Picard, Mr Data or William Ryker then step forward and take control – after all, it’s your life, your career and your decision.

‘Make it so!’

As with all my ‘comments’ they are mine and mine alone. If you would like to get in touch or share your opinions then email me on adam.read@ricardo.com. For more of my blogs lease refer to http://www.ricardo-aea.com/cms/resource-efficiency-and-waste-management-3/

Adam is global practice director for Ricardo Energy & Environment’s resource efficiency and waste management practice, and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management and the Royal Geographical Society. He has more than 20 years of waste sector strategy, service design, procurement and communications experience, both in the UK and overseas, and is a regular industry commentator, author and conference speaker, both in the UK and around the world.

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