Skills, a greener economy and the 3 'R's

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I attended the Associate Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group's (ASPRG) forum on sustainable skills in the waste management sector in Westminster yesterday.

“You know how to live!” I hear you cry.

Well, it was actually rather interesting. While only briefly touching on the plastics side of things there were some keenly-expressed views being expressed on how to attract people – particularly young people – into the waste management sector, which after all includes our favourite material, after a fashion.

The waste management industry could start, suggested one speaker, by calling itself 'sustainable resource management', since this was a more positive way of looking at it, although one industry type pointed out that the minefield surrounding the licensing of re-processing what is legally defined 'waste' would put a kybosh on any of that high-falutin' shenanigans.

One theme regularly visited by a number of the commentators was the need for designers to 'design out' waste from new products. Chris Pook from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills told the story of one aspiring design student who'd reached an impasse, believing there “nothing left to design anymore”.

It was suggested to him that he tried to find ways of creating products that relied on fewer resources and lo, he re-discovered his design mojo and saw in existing products better ones waiting to emerge.

Another speaker, Neil Robertson of Energy and Utility Skills, highlighted the bizarre situation where it took one person to oversee a mass of waste material be consigned to a hole in the ground, yet it took 15 people to take part in its reprocessing.

Green credentials and job creation in one fell swoop? You might say that.

The need for skills was obvious, speakers agreed, but exactly what skills were required and how they should be brought about remained an area of contention for some. Skills were also only a part of the equation in a green economy, it was suggested.

There were also calls for universities to be helped in driving demand for appropriate courses that would lead to better skill-sets in recycling and waste sectors – a call familiar to many in the plastics sector, I suspect.

Liz Green of WRAP called for serious consideration of the sort of skills that employers wanted and how such skills were subsequently applied.

All good stuff.

I was however thoroughly depressed by one statistic rolled out at the event; 25% of children apparently leave full-time education “without the basics”, eg, basic literary and numeracy skills.

Perhaps once society has cracked that particular nut then the issue of skills further up the food chain will have a better chance of being addressed. Just a thought...