The waste management industry you see today has come a long way. In contrast to the historical approach of managing waste disposal through land filling or burning, the emerging model for waste management focuses on reducing waste production and diverting waste from disposal. While it’s great to know these changes are happening, it’s even more beneficial to understand what these trends mean for jobs. We’re looking closely at the employment impact of four key industry trends.
Trend 1: Strong Industry Growth
I’ll start with the very best news for waste management — this industry is in a strong phase of growth. From 2004 to 2006, the solid waste management sector grew by 17% in revenues, and by 2010, over 70,000 professionals were working in this area.
Over the next few years, these employment numbers are also expected to grow. According to a recent labour market study, the demand for workers in solid waste management is set to increase by an annual compound rate of 6%, or about 4,000 new positions (Solid Waste Management Labour Market Study, ECO Canada, 2010). As a result, workers who have the right skills and training can expect good employment prospects in waste management, now and into the future.
Trend 2: Modified Skills in the Green Economy
At the same time that there’s a growing demand for workers in waste management, there’s also an intensifying need for skills in waste management.
Here’s how this subtle distinction works.
Over the course of two major studies on green employment in Canada, we found that the main impact of the green economy on jobs is the adaptation or modification of existing work. As a result, many workers must add new competencies to their skill-sets because they must perform a greater range of environment-related activities in their work.
Along this vein, waste management skills are currently required for jobs in sectors that are not traditionally associated with waste management. In fact, 10% of green job vacancies in environmental protection listed a requirement for competencies in waste management, such as characterizing waste or monitoring waste disposal and reduction programs. An additional 8% of job openings in alternative/sustainable transportation and 6% of job postings in sustainable planning & urban design also mentioned waste management skills (The Green Jobs Map: Tracking Employment through Canada’s Green Economy, ECO Canada, 2012).
In this way, waste management is increasingly relevant for work in a greater variety of areas.
Trend 3: Shift from Disposal to Diversion
The green economy is one meta-trend that is shaping waste management careers, and the emergence of the “cradle-to-cradle” concept is another. At its most basic, the idea of cradle-to-cradle involves diverting waste from disposal to help conserve landfill space and preserve natural resources. In order to reach the goal of producing less waste in the first place, many companies are now considering new ways to redesign products and packaging, substitute materials, recycle, and use progressive waste disposal technology, such as anaerobic digestion of waste products.
These are exciting times for waste management, with a growing need for professionals who have the competencies to support not just waste disposal, but also waste diversion.
Trend 4: High Retirement Rates in Upper Management
This last trend shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Many existing employees in waste management are nearing retirement age: 39% of the waste management workforce are 50 years of age or older. Employees in this age category are more likely to have at least 10 years of experience in their field, and as a result of this seniority, many of these professionals also hold positions in upper management (Solid Waste Management Labour Market Study). Another key characteristic of these workers is their level of education. Thirty-seven percent of senior-level waste management employees have a Bachelor’s degree, while 40% hold a Master’s.
The big question is, of course, what happens when these workers retire?
Based on the current characteristics of these professionals, there will be a strong future demand for highly-educated staff who have the leadership skills and general expertise required for management positions.
Together, these four trends are driving a dramatic shift in the work opportunities and requirements for waste management professionals. It will be truly exciting to see what the coming years will bring.
What are your own thoughts of the major trends in waste management? Where do you see this industry heading?
About this guest blogger:
I’m Angie Knowles. As a Communications Coordinator at ECO Canada, I stay up-to-date on the latest findings from our ongoing labour market research and share these results with our target audiences in formats that are as meaningful and relevant as possible. For an avid writer and major bookworm, this role is pretty close to perfect.