Women in Waste: Laura Shippen – building a strong career path

 In the first segment of our Women In Waste series, we looked at an influential woman in an unconventional career at our Halton Waste Management Site. In this blog I interviewed a young woman who started her career path early as she knew what she wanted to do at a young age.

Laura Shippen is the Supervisor for Regional Operations of Ontario Electronic Stewardship (OES). OES is the Industry Funding Organization (IFO) that develops, funds, and manages the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) recycling program on behalf of the industry in accordance with plans approved by Waste Diversion Ontario  and the Ontario Minister of the Environment. OES brings the WEEE program to municipalities through 500+ collection sites across the province.

NM: What are your responsibilities as the Supervisor of Regional Operations for OES?

LS: Some of my responsibilities include overseeing the collection and movement of e-waste province-wide.  I have a team of regionally based operations coordinators who work with our approved collection sites. I liaise with collection sites, working with the sites to ensure they properly handle the electronic material, ensure that standards are followed, provide training, conduct pilot projects such as municipal curbside initiatives, oversee numerous collection events, determine gaps in our collection service and I filter through the unique requests and ideas that come to OES for collection opportunities.

NM: What aspects of your job do you most enjoy?

LS: In general, I enjoy the positive impact my job with OES has in Ontario. In four years we have recycled over 160, 000 metric tonnes of waste electrical and electronic waste.

I get to talk to all kinds of people interested in our program, from residents to business owners to CEOs. Through our promotion and education programs, consumers are more educated now than they ever have been, which is very rewarding.  In fact, as of December 2012, 67% of Ontarians are aware of the Recycle Your Electronics program. Residents and small businesses can learn about where they can recycle their electronic waste at www.recycleyourelectronics.ca.

NM: What are some of the challenges?

LS: Ensuring that all provincial sites are serviced properly can be a challenge. Every municipality has different needs (e.g. Wawa, Halton Region, Red Lake) and trying to support and manage the service levels can be challenging.

We don’t always get it right either. There have been pilot projects that don’t work for a certain area, although these are always used as learning experiences. Since we have only been operational for four years we don’t have a huge history for comparison and estimations, but we are improving with what we do have. Sometimes you need to take risks and make the mistakes with the pilot projects to build best practices.

NM: How did you arrive to be in the position that you are in today?

LS: I knew I always wanted to be waste management. I remember when the curbside recycling program started in the 1980s and I was fascinated by it! I found it interesting that we now had to sort our garbage and certain materials would actually be made into new products. I was always interested in landfills as the images of them always stuck with me.

After university (receiving her undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies from Wilfrid Laurier) I worked in waste management at the Town of Markham and then for the Region of Peel in contract positions. Through these jobs I really learned the ins and outs of how municipalities managed waste, which solidified my belief in what I wanted to do. I was part of a road crew in Peel that assisted By-law staff. We had to make sure residents were following the new curbside program properly. It was a very hard and dirty job, it forced you to really make the decision if this career path was for you.

Laura lifting electronic waste in to a container at a Recycle Your Electonics event

I was the only woman out of a crew of five. It was an unglamorous job and I was smaller than everyone. I would often get strange looks from residents when I would show up for a call. I got my stripes rather quickly and ensured that I could “talk the talk” and “walk the walk.” I look back on these days and really appreciate the experience. These jobs definitely gave me a thicker skin for this industry.

I moved out of waste for several years and received a lot of corporate and legal experience, but realized I wanted to be in waste again. When the opportunity presented itself at StewardEdge, I jumped at the chance to get back in. I stared as a coordinator in operations and moved up to a supervisor within a year.  OES took their operation in-house and here I am.

I did further my education to assist me with my career path as I completed a Certificate in Environmental Management from the University of Toronto.  I have also been certified as an Environmental Professional (EP) by ECO Canada.

NM: Who were your mentors along your journey?

LS: I have had the opportunity to work with a lot of great people through my journey so far. Craig Bartlett (formerly Town of Markham, currently Durham Region) and his team had a significant impact on my work and gave me the opportunity to learn and grow.

I worked with Joe Hall at StewardEdge who provided me technical skills and advanced operational experience.

I also had the opportunity to work with Sherry Arcaro (formerly StewardEdge, currently Stewardship Ontario) who greatly furthered my operational knowledge and took every opportunity she could to teach. All of these managers personify great management and leadership skills.

NM: What have been some important lessons you have learned along the way?

LS: To go with your gut. You may have to make decisions that are unpopular, but you know they are the right decisions to make, and in my experience, this often results in the right outcome.

Calls are often referred to me where the answer is “no.” It is a hard thing to do at times, but being able to say “no” is an extremely valuable leadership skill.

I have learned to pick my battles. I save the battle for the times when things are really important.

I have learned to always be fair and reasonable. Things work out better that way.

NM: What advice would you have for young women getting in to this industry, or your position in particular?

Profile picture of Laura Shippen

LS: Don’t get discouraged and stay the course.

Learn as much as you can and always continue learning and never take what you have learned for granted. When you stop learning everyday you need to ask yourself are you satisfied?

Take chances, even though it can be uncomfortable. You should be aware of when you are doing something you don’t want to be doing and take a chance to make a change.

NM: Thank you Laura for sharing your story and for the great advice. By having a passion, working hard and getting to know the right people can do amazing things for your career. Congrats on the success you have already had and by the way you’re going, you have quite the career path ahead of you!

About Nicole Meek

Position: Waste Management Program Coordinator Passion: collaborating with my colleagues in projects that require team effort. Strange Obsession: Excel spreadsheets, I always find an excuse to whip one up! At Home: I love being active, running/walking my dog, biking with my husband, or participating in various exercise regimes.
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2 Responses to Women in Waste: Laura Shippen – building a strong career path

  1. jrhallredirecycling says:

    Laura is one of the hardest working and conscientious co-workers I have had the pleasure to be on a team with. I would gladly work alongside or for her any day of the week.

  2. Brian Scott says:

    Excellent interview. We’re lucky we have people like Laura and her team, who are truly passionate about protecting our environment. It’s only the passionate ones that really end up making a difference!

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