How Viridor is using training, apprenticeships and education programmes to invest in the industry's future
People are the lifeblood of any sector but, with the circular economy and low carbon goals of our industry, we need the best and the brightest to drive aspirations for future development.
Viridor has the UK’s largest network of 300-plus waste facilities, including 20 large-scale recycling and 12 energy recovery facilities (ERFs), with four in commission or under construction.
Each year, Viridor manages more than 7.6 million tonnes of resources and enough energy to power more than 380,000 homes.
By transforming waste into high-quality raw materials and renewable energy, we make a big contribution to improving the UK’s resource efficiency. To ensure our industry can continue to develop, investing in both the current and next generation is paramount.
Viridor’s head of talent and learning, Johanna Wilson, says: “Our learning and development support staff at all levels, helping to increase productivity, job satisfaction and safety, as well as developing our next generation of leaders.
“During 2017, more than 4,000 training interventions were completed at Viridor. We also launched ‘HomeSafe’ – our new behavioural safety programme across the workforce.”
2018 saw Viridor’s strongest response to learning and development to date. Viridor has partnered with award-winning vocational training provider System Group, which has up-skilled and developed pivotal business functions such as engineering, project management, leadership and operational teams.
Wilson adds: “Our new partnership with System Group is a significant step forward in supporting employee development programmes and investing in our future growth. System Group will benefit both our internal training and apprenticeship recruitment.”
Investing in apprenticeships
The year-on-year increase in apprenticeships across waste and recycling is promising, with apprenticeship numbers at Viridor set to climb further in future.
The apprenticeship landscape has changed significantly in light of the government’s new apprenticeship standards, meaning apprenticeships are now on offer at all stages of the employee development lifecycle – from entry level through to executive level.
Wilson says: “The new apprenticeship standards mean we can take full advantage of structuring internal development, qualifying it for levy funding while prioritising development to meet some of our key skills challenges.
“Our new LGV Driver apprenticeship programme is launching now – seeing 30 members of current staff being up-skilled to meet the need for drivers. This will be closely followed by a project management and engineering apprenticeship programme.”
Current apprenticeship success
Viridor’s current ERF apprentices are a tribute to the benefits apprenticeships bring to the industry. The 13 ERF apprentices have been praised for their ability to promote innovation, with four apprentices winning or being nominated for national and local awards.
Viridor apprentice mentor, Richard McCreanor, says: “Our third-year apprentices have already suggested improvements to processes at the Runcorn ERF, which has benefited the facility. We welcome that injection of a different viewpoint – it keeps us fresh and up-to-date.”
Second-year ERF apprentice Will Antrobus, 18, says: “I had just left school and was eager to get into the engineering industry. There are benefits to the community as it prevents unemployment in young people, which is a challenge for young people today.
Ardley Education Centre
“Apprenticeships benefit businesses as a whole as it allows us to become key members of the business in years to come.”
Mat Napper, ERF project manager, says: “Our ERF apprentices work across three trades – mechanical, electrical and control and instrumentation. Given the success, I am pleased to announce our plans to recruit a further eight ERF apprentices [in 2018].”
Viridor’s Graduate Management scheme, which launched in 2012, also expanded in 2018, giving graduates the opportunity to learn about how a business works and apply their knowledge from university to working life.
Investing in future leaders
With the aim to invest in future leaders, Viridor has developed several higher education initiatives to bridge the gap between job skill and managerial ability for those progressing through the company.
The innovative ‘Viridor degree’ programme with Edge Hill University has provided a progression route for approximately 40 middle managers since 2012, with a further 45 recently enrolled to the new Level 6 Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship (CMDA) programme.
Future business leaders have also been given the opportunity to up-skill through the Executive MBA offering with Cranfield University.
Wilson says: “The interest in the programmes across the business has been outstanding. It presents a fantastic opportunity for current employees to aim high and develop their careers with a business that is keen to invest in its future leaders.”
Steven Sepp, who is currently enrolled on the CMDA programme, says: “The skills we are learning are transferable to everyday tasks across the company. Uniquely, the course is also bringing together employees from different departments, leading to great interaction across the business.”
Investing in STEM education
The industry needs the next generation of talent to make tomorrow’s challenges achievable. We, therefore, need to promote science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) in the education system today.
Doing so is two-fold. It opens up the minds of young people to be inspired with STEM, promoting informed career choices. Secondly it helps the next generation develop positive attitudes and behaviours towards waste.
Many of Viridor’s ERFs boast dedicated Education Centres, which welcomed over 19,000 students, community groups and customers last year alone.
Jessica Baker-Pike, education and visitor centre officer at the Ardley Education Centre in Oxfordshire, says: “Our Education Centres illustrate how STEM knowledge taught in schools is used in the real world to maximise the benefit from materials in bins.
“We explain that everyone is managing resources when they put things in bins. Children then teach their parents ideas to minimise wastage and contamination in recycling, promoting a household behaviour change.
"Our role is to benefit our communities by offering learning outside of the classroom and promoting STEM careers.”
Viridor also works closely with communities near facilities to provide funding and support for local education initiatives.
Supporting the community
Last year, Viridor was shortlisted for the Business in the Community 2017 Award for Education in recognition of continued positive community impact through its partnership with The Bicester School and Sixth Form College in Oxfordshire.
The school has seen an increase in the number of girls taking up STEM subjects as a result of the partnership directly reaching 664 students between Key Stages 2 and 4. Viridor also worked with six female students from the school on an Engineering Development Trust (EDT) project which ranked in the top four of 1,000 entries.
Tim Marston, deputy head at The Bicester School, says: “The education team at Ardley has transformed the way in which our students see the world of science and engineering.
“We now have record numbers of students opting for triple science and young people aspiring to work in a field that they would previously have discounted.”
Together, a diverse and varied learning and development strategy is indispensable to make our industry truly sustainable. Government changes to apprenticeships have provided a fantastic springboard to continue our industry-wide, circular-economy-driven mission for growth.
This article was written by Sharna Smith, Viridor's media and campaigns associate. It originally appeared on recyclingwasteworld.co.uk in April 2018.