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People: the Future of the Circular Economy

I was delighted to attend a celebration day recently for the first-ever graduates of a brand new HNC in Sustainable Resource Management at Fife College, and meet some of the inspiring individuals who’ve successfully completed the course. 

Iain Gulland | 12 May 16

At Zero Waste Scotland our aim is to support progress towards a circular economy and enable Scottish society to reap the benefits of more efficient use of resources. To achieve this and to ensure that the transition happens quickly and endures, I believe that we need to invest now in the skills that will be necessary for the workforce of the future. We will need these skills to be able to support and embrace the innovation in new technology, products and services upon which the circular economy will thrive.

That’s why I’m proud that Zero Waste Scotland has been in a position to fund the HNC in Sustainable Resource Management at Fife College, which includes the teaching of circular economy concepts alongside more traditional skills associated with the current resource management industry.

And it was clear from listening to the students at the event that they are justifiably enthused about a future in resource management. They’re excited, because not only have they received relevant training they can take back to their current roles, but also because they can see a dynamic future for the industry, with exciting opportunities for themselves and their colleagues.

People like Cathy Welsh, who spoke at the event about how she’s applied learning from the HNC directly in her job at Fife Resource Solutions, particularly around the Anaerobic Digestion process. Also Best Project prize winner Billy Kenny of Glasgow City Council’s Land and Environmental Services, who presented on how he’s using his learning from the HNC to develop a new learning framework for apprentices in his team at the council. This will introduce new formal learning opportunities for apprentices while helping to ensure adequately trained staff are coming through to meet the future needs of Land and Environmental Services for Glasgow.

My participation at the event also allowed me to reflect on the past twenty years since I myself gained an HNC in Waste Management from Stow College in Glasgow, whilst I was working at East Lothian District Council.

Back then, for many of us in the resource management business, or waste business as it was, the concept of a circular economy was unfamiliar. We felt satisfied with what we were doing - redirecting waste from landfill and helping the environment.

I don’t think I could have imagined how far the industry would come in these past twenty years. It has shown its ability to innovate and develop, initially working towards zero waste and now creatively working towards bringing about a more circular economy. From simply recycling for environmental reasons the industry is at the centre of an economic and social purpose through job creation, cost savings and tackling inequality.

It’s clear that the next twenty years will similarly see great change as the circular economy agenda evolves and crystalizes around new systems and services.

Making this happen means we’ll need, above all, people. We will need innovators, engineers, project managers, designers, production experts, economists, business and communication professionals; all of which will need to be trained and skilled and then given the space to bring fresh views and ideas into the sector, to continually reinvigorate it.

In this new modern business environment, we will also need to have champions of the circular economy.

Graduating from Fife College’s HNC, the first course which aims to inspire and give participants the tools to develop these principles, is a significant achievement by each one of the students, and I hope to see many more enthusiastic applicants in future years.

As Billy Kenny commented in his prize-winning training project, “The circular economy is now a fact of life…educating the young, skilling up the workforce, can only make for a positive outcome.”

Everyone who knows me, knows that I am a firm believer in the importance of education and developing people. I’d like to congratulate all the successful graduates in this inaugural year, and hope to see a generation of circular economy champions emerge, who will be at the forefront of the change which a growing number of us believe could transform our economy and environmental performance. 

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