Solid Waste & Recycling


Training for the Future

As we reported in the last edition (June/July 2010), ECO Canada has published its Solid Waste Management 2010: Labour Market Research Study (June 2010), a project funded by the Government of Canada's Sector Council Program. The study looks at...

As we reported in the last edition (June/July 2010), ECO Canada has published its Solid Waste Management 2010: Labour Market Research Study (June 2010), a project funded by the Government of Canada’s Sector Council Program. The study looks at employment in the solid waste industry and attempts to understand and anticipate future labour and training needs. The project included a survey of 853 organizations and recommendations from a 17-member National Steering Committee (of which the author was a member). The following information is a synopsis of the findings as described in the report’s Executive Summary.

ECO Canada estimates the current size of the solid waste industry in Canada as likely exceeding 70,000 employees (approximately 59,869 private and 9,354 public sector). Between 2004 and 2006, the industry grew 17 per cent in terms of revenues but shrunk by 14 per cent in terms of number of businesses, in part due to mergers and acquisitions.

Based on the employer survey, solid waste employment is expected to grow by an annual compound rate of six per cent over the next three years. This translates into more than 4,000 new employees, but the classification of jobs will vary widely according to employers: 80 per cent expect increases in the number of labourers (45 per cent) and operators (35 per cent); only 14 per cent of employers expected higher management positions to grow.

For the purposes of the study, the solid waste industry was defined using three main categories of NAICS codes that follow fairly traditional definitions of waste management. New and emerging activities not yet covered by NAICS were also included: anaerobic digestion/biodigestion; landfill gas management; waste-to-energy (WTE). Certain areas were excluded, including agricultural composting, haz-waste management, manufacturing of products from recovered and recycled materials, and wastewater treatment.

The vast majority of positions in the industry were full-time or permanent (about 95 per cent). Labourer and operator positions represent 78 per cent of total employment. Higher management positions were filled (as one would expect) by older, educated workers. The study identified a potential shortfall in qualified people to fill positions as these upper management workers retire in the near to mid-term future. (Consult the study for a more complete description of the labour market.)

Industry challenges & trends

Regulations were the most important challenge stated by employers that can affect the growth of their organization and impact the solid waste industry. Roughly two-thirds of employers in both the public and private side of the business judge this issue to be very important. Other important challenges mentioned were production and financing challenges.

The global trend is toward replacing traditional waste collection and disposal with sustainable practices and the use of waste as a resource (e.g., for raw materials and energy). Producer responsibility is also a major trend. The use of new technology is expected to drive a need for highly-skilled, specially-trained professionals.

Although most (59 per cent) surveyed organizations aren’t currently experiencing difficulties hiring qualified candidates, more than half (52 per cent) expect to encounter hiring difficulties in the next five years. Fifty-three per cent of survey respondents say their staff turnover is greatest at the labourer level, followed by operators (24 per cent). Only a third of surveyed organizations offered incentive programs to attract and retain staff, mostly in the form of bonuses (49 per cent). (This finding creates an opportunity for employers to distinguish themselves from other organizations.)

The majority of employers currently offered CPR or health and safety courses (60 per cent), followed by in-house seminars (43 per cent), further education/training (42 per cent) and off-site workshops/seminars/conferences (41 per cent).

Key recommendations

The study developed seven key recommendations related to the solid waste industry and its future employment and training needs.

1. Improve the way the solid waste industry is presented to attract future employees with the right skill sets.

2. Develop better succession and knowledge transfer plans to ensure knowledge retention within the industry.

3. Focus on ensuring effective future hiring and retention practices among lower skilled workers (esp. labourers and operators).

4. Investigate the preparedness of training programs for future skills requirements. On-the-job training remains the rule in the industry and training through post-secondary institutions is limited. In addition, employer awareness of Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) training programs was relatively low. (See accompanying article on page 16.)

5. Prepare for the expected increased need for highly skilled workers with the advent of new technology.

6. Further investigate expected government policy and regulation developments as they may affect labour and training requirements.

7. Improve awareness among solid waste workers about ECO Canada and its job board.

Steering Committee recommendations

The National Steering Committee (NSC), made up of senior solid waste industry members, provided key feedback on the potential future developments and challenges in the industry based on their experience as well as this study’s findings.

The global trend is toward sustainable practices where waste is viewed as a resource and diversion from disposal is a top priority. Changes in corporate behaviour and well-designed regulations will drive this trend further in Canada.

The waste stream is starting to be viewed as composed of two streams: organic material and waste from products, each of which can be re-used. Very different skill sets will be required for managing the two streams.

The technologies of the future can be thought of as falling into two categories:

• Back-end technologies for improving management of waste management (e.g., anaerobic digestion, biomass, landfill gas collection, automated collection, recycling facility equipment); and

• Front-end solutions to reduce waste (e.g., redesign of products to reduce packaging and facilitate recycling or reuse, more deconstruction centres, public education, product stewardship programs), etc.

Public opinion and perception will continue to impact the evolution of solid waste in the form of support or opposition to proposed initiatives.

A challenge the NSC identified is that there is currently no consistent nomenclature for solid waste industry occupation standards or certification of key occupations. As noted, skills training is mainly delivered in-house by organizations themselves and soft skills such as leadership and communication are currently in short supply. As a result, skills training will become more important in the future.

There will be a shift in workers from disposal to diversion as Canada moves toward sustainability. Different skill sets will be required. Automation and mechanization have reduced the need for some staff. However, different, higher-level skills will be required related to information technology. An in-depth understanding of the specific soft skills training needs is required to effectively incorporate them into training programs.

The NSC made the following recommendations based on their experience as well as the study’s findings:

• Develop a consistent occupational nomenclature for the industry that creates standards and competencies to support the successful future management of the sector. Standards for occupations and functions would be developed similarly to those created for the Canadian Water/Wastewater Industry that results in documented National Occupational Standards (NOS). Given the chan
ging nature and requirements of the workforce, an NOS tool will map solid waste occupations to standardized job descriptions and competency requirements.

• Put in place a body for certifying solid waste management training, which must be independent and distinct from those organizations offering personnel in Canada. Certification will add value to solid waste jobs, and is vital to ensuring that qualified individuals are operating facilities.

In developing a certification model, the following challenges should be addressed:

• Determine if certification is intended to address public safety (as in certification for waste water managers) and/or for career advancement;

• Verify the voluntary or mandatory nature of the certification process;

• Clarify and gain agreement on how certification and training will be funded;

• Ensure criteria are relevant to a wide range of situations ranging from rural municipalities to large cities;

• Ensure partnerships are created between the training institutions and the certifying body to ensure appropriate training programs are developed and implemented.

NOS and certification will establish standards to maintain a core competency level that supports the development of required skill sets for the continued evolution of the solid waste industry.

Guy Crittenden is editor of this magazine. Contact Guy at

For a copy of the full Eco Canada report Solid Waste Management 2010: Labour Market Research Study (June 2010) visit

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