In an era of growing environmental consciousness, new technologies and overfilling landfills, our industry is faced with the need to transform itself. Both waste management and waste generating companies are being called on to offer more environmentally friendly solutions and to work with the public sector for smarter, cleaner and faster ways of disposing of our increasing trash volumes.
And as our landscape evolves – so must our talent needs. Training in any sector is vital to staying competitive and help to upskill our workforce to stay relevant and transition into new roles with ease. In the waste management industry, given the range of operations under its umbrella, and the advent of Industry 4.0, the need for professional development becomes critical for success because it gives us the ability and flexibility to stay in tune with the latest advancements and, more importantly, utilise them. The Internet of Things, Big Data, robotics and machine-learning are all a novelty to most of the sector, requiring extensive upskilling on the part of our workforce.
Within the waste and environment services sector, industry leaders agree that the impact of these technologies cannot be ignored, with 97 percent of respondents from the sector that took part in a research by the International Solid Waste Association in 2017 believing they will be affected in one way or another by the Fourth Industrial Revolution in the very near future.
Even now, leading companies and entities are exploring the possible applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and digitalisation especially within the realm of establishing a circular economy. According to a 2019 report by McKinsey, Google and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the estimated value for opportunities where AI helps design out waste in a circular economy for food and consumer electronics alone will equal US$127 and US$90 billion (over AED 466 and AED330 billion) a year respectively by 2030. But to unlock this potential, the industry needs experts with the developed skill set to help deliver our vision of reimagined waste management.
As we transition to more innovative ways of working across sectors, it is essential to start training people to maximise the use of these tools. For instance, with the rise of autonomous vehicles, waste collection vehicles might one day become self-driving, involving an entirely different set of capabilities. Which goes to show that alongside adopting the latest technologies, companies need to also consider how they prepare workers for other value-added roles and make the investment in their talent development needs to ensure a seamless shift in the future.
To meet the needs of a futureready workforce, the Institute of Environmental Management and Sustainability (IEMS) Academy was established in 2017 to provide blended training and development programmes that establish and enhance people’s knowledge and skills required for current and future jobs in the industry. There was very clearly a need for internationally recognised professional qualifications in the sector, using new and improved learning techniques that meet the current requirements of our operating landscape and we seek to bridge the gap between supply and demand of such training. During Covid-19, a time of dramatic change for many of us, IEMS Academy continued to meet the need of the hour by offering virtual courses that address our new normal. This was just another indication of how we are constantly in a state of transition and our talent development must reflect these changes.
There are numerous benefits for people considering professional qualifications – new opportunities along career paths, better chances for increased salaries, and exposure to both industry and academic expertise. Our sector, in particular, has a lot to benefit from nurturing and moulding our workforce. Companies and their workforce must stay ahead of the curve to seize the opportunities before us, in order to shape a more sustainable future.
Mohamed Alhosani is CEO at Bee’ah Consultancy, Research and Innovation.