Waste recruitment specialists Smart Solutions launched a new training division in September 2012 Smart Development to offer pre-employment courses in sectors such as waste management for people who have been unemployed for six months or more.
The free courses funded by the Get Britain Working scheme in England and by Working Links in Wales aim to prepare candidates for careers in the waste industry with a focus on health and safety, team building and an overview of what happens to waste that is not sent to landfill.
Assessed and selected by employment organisations such as Jobcentre Plus and Working Links for their suitability, candidates are enrolled one or two-week Smart Development course with a guaranteed job interview at the end.
As such, the courses also serve as a practical assessment of candidates over several days, which has proved popular in the industry. In the few short months since Smart Development was launched, the likes of Biffa, Casepak, UPM, AmeyCespa and Amber Waste Management Services have all taken on employees as a result of the training.
ESA member Amber, situated near Cardiff at the Dyffryn Business Park in Ystrad Mynach, was set up in 1972 by Mike Jones and has become very much a family affair. He named the company after his daughter Amber, who is also the sales director, and he still works three to four days a week as chairman.
Now run by Mikes son Jay, Amber handles around 70,000 tonnes of construction, industrial, commercial and household waste each year, employing around 60 staff at its MRF and transfer station. Since October 2012, managing director Jay has run several Smart Development pre-employment training courses on site, taking on six new staff as a result. With plans to have a new picking and sorting belt in operation by the end of the year, too, he may well need to take on more.
Jay says training has helped improve health and safety, as well as staff retention, which he puts down to successful candidates gaining a better understanding of the sector before they start the job.
Now the people that are coming through want to work and know exactly what they are coming into. I think were getting a better quality of candidates and workers as a result.
One of those workers is 22-year old Peter Bishop, from nearby Newbridge, who has been at Amber for around three months. He applied through Working Links for a Smart Development course in October when Amber were searching for a new weighbridge operator, and Jay says he has taken very quickly to the role.
With all the disciplines involved in being a weighbridge operator, it usually takes about two weeks of on-the-job training with a mentor, but with Peter it was only five days. So it has been a really positive result, says Jay.
Peter struggled to find permanent work for several years after his job at Caerphilly county borough council came to an end, and took on various work placements in the area to try and improve his chances of landing a role. Before Peter applied for the weighbridge course at Amber, he says, he had little knowledge of the industry.
‘It is benefitting me, because at first I thought it would just be a job, but now it is something that Im really interested in. I definitely want to carry on and work in the industry now.’
Peter Bishop, Amber employee and former Smart Development trainee
I thought the waste sector was a lot more simple than it is. I thought waste just went straight to landfill and I didnt realise how much was actually recycled, says Peter.
Now Peter has not just a permanent, full-time job but is being supported by Smart Development through a six-month NVQ on The Principal of Sustainable Recycling Activities in order to further his career in the industry.
It is benefitting me, because at first I thought it would just be a job, but now it is something that Im really interested in, says Peter. I definitely want to carry on and work in the industry now.
Glynis Lewis is one of Smart Developments three Waste Management Industry and Training Board (WAMITAB)-approved staff members who teach the pre-employment courses across the UK. She also has experience in the waste sector, having been in charge of toner recycling at Panasonic before the firm moved most of its UK workforce to Asia.
With job opportunities scarce in almost every sector in the UK, she says the courses she teaches attract a variety of different people.
Sometimes theres 20 candidates and you never really know who youre getting sometimes you see a CV and sometimes you dont, she says. Theres a varied age range as well. Last week I think I had around three people in their 50s while the youngest was a 19-year old.
Today, she is holding a workshop on teamwork at the Amber recycling centre with six young local candidates for picking and sorting jobs. One of them, 21-year-old Paul Smith, says before the opportunity came up through Working Links, he had no idea about the kind of careers that were available in waste and recycling.
Its mad how waste and recycling can give so many people jobs , he says. And even if you dont get a job at the end of this course, youre getting stuff to put on your CV, which is key to getting a job like this.
Fellow candidate 19-year-old Robert Edmunds also says he has learned a lot about the kind of skills needed to work in the industry. From being here just a couple of days we know a little about health and safety and what is bad waste and what is good waste we could go outside and show you now. I think its really helpful, he says.
Also key to the courses for Jay Jones, though, is that workers understand the need to produce the highest possible quality of recycled material in order to compete on the market. After all, picking and sorting the wrong materials at the start of the recycling process can cost Amber huge amounts of money further down the line, so it is crucial to make sure everyone is given the right training.
I anticipate the purity of our products will end up better, because the guys weve taken here are actually interested, whereas some people before had a bit of a slap-dash attitude to it all, says Jay. Im not a gambling man, but I reckon we will get a really good quality of product as a result of this training.
However, Provisions manager at Working Links, Ross Watts, says the courses dont just teach important skills to potential employees, but also help promote an industry that, with landfill tax on the increase, will hopefully continue to grow despite the sluggish UK economy.
Since we began the courses here, we have noticed in our offices people coming in and saying I hear Amber are taking on people are there any opportunities there? he says. The communities around here are quite tight and people hear things on the grapevine. So it has definitely raised Ambers profile within Working Links and beyond.
In an industry often under the spotlight for the health and safety of its workers amid increasing competition from abroad for higher quality recycled product, it could well be that pre-employment training becomes the normal route into a job in the waste and recycling sector.
And importantly, the courses can also help improve the perception people may have of working in the sector. It gives people value in their jobs, says Jay. Whereas previously there was a stigma attached to the waste industry as some perhaps saw it as unattractive area to work in, since theyve been getting this training, they feel a lot better about their career.