Swansea Waste Management Team who have recently started training and upskilling their staff to further progress their careers. Staff have been attending Gower College Swansea to gain qualifications and transform their lives with education.

Adult Learners’ Week runs from 17-23 June and celebrates the positive long-term impact education can have on peoples’ careers and overall wellbeing.

A team at Swansea has just won an Inspire! Award for learning - and one ‘binie’ has shared an average day on a busy round in the city

Heavy lifting in all weathers, risking injury and facing abuse is all in a day’s work for Swansea’s ‘binies’.

Now the team supporting the people who collect and deal with the city’s rubbish every day, have received a national award, for their new scheme that offers staff an industry-recognised qualification.

The Inspire! Awards are hosted each year ahead of Adult Learners’ Week – initiatives coordinated by Learning and Work Institute with support from the Welsh Government and the European Social Fund. Inspire! Award winners are rewarded for demonstrating the power of learning in raising expectations, building confidence and developing vibrant and successful communities, and their stories will also feature as part of Adult Learners’ Week, which takes place this year from June 17-23.

The Waste Management Team, who took the ‘Skills At Work’ award, is one of 12 winners who were recognised in a ceremony in Cardiff this week [Wednesday June 5.]

City and County of Swansea (the local council) wanted to work with staff to change attitudes towards the waste sector, so it joined forces with GCS Training at Gower College Swansea last year, to deliver a traineeship that would provide waste management staff with a qualification.

Many people who join the industry start on zero hours contracts via agencies, but those successfully completing the new nine-month course delivered by the college will leave with a Waste and Management Industry Training Advisory Board (WAMITAB) diploma and the offer of a full-time, permanent job at the council.

Gareth Payne is employed by the college as an Adult Learning tutor and runs the course at Swansea  Baling Plant in Llansamlet. His job is to upskill the recruits in everything from health and safety, hazardous waste handling and creating a better work-life balance. He said: “It’s a physical, hard, smelly job with challenges every day - and it’s their job to keep everyone safe.

“We all want our bins collected and our waste dealt with, but many people don’t realise just how tough a job it is.”

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As part of the traineeship, all learners, who work in several roles across the waste process, must achieve the Level 2 WAMITAB Diploma in Sustainable Resource Activities. Two hundred people applied when it launched last spring, and all of the 10 taken on the first course passed and have since been employed full-time by the council, with a new course now running.

“Many of the trainees hadn’t been in a classroom for ages,” said Gareth, who is also studying for his Level 4 in Waste Management at the college.

“If you’ve been out of school for a while and maybe you didn’t do particularly well, it’s easy to feel like learning isn’t for you and you’ve missed your shot. But that’s not the case.”

“If we can support people with adult learning, we can help them to achieve a potential they maybe didn’t know they had.”

Matthew Jones, from Clase, in Swansea, completed his traineeship last December, after spending three years working on a zero hours contract for an agency. The 37-year-old qualified with an NVQ Level 2 Waste Management diploma and is employed full-time by the council. The LGV driver carrier manages a 26-tonne, 12ft lorry and helps the collection team working across around 25,000 properties per day. “It’s a brilliant scheme,” he said.

“Having a qualification behind me makes me feel more respected - and the industry needs that. We’re on the front line every day.”

Matthew’s job starts with a lorry check at 6.30am, before he’s assigned a round as part of a team that can work anywhere in the city, before returning to the plant for sorting or bulking.

“It’s a dangerous job,” he said. “We hit the school run every day and we get children running out into the road, cars driving up on the pavements because they won’t wait 30 seconds for me to move. We do get some some abuse, but on the whole, people are absolutely lovely and I love chatting with neighbours.”

Matthew will soon be enrolling onto the Level 3 WAMITAB qualification, which will provide him with an A-Level equivalent and allow him to apply for management positions.

“Since we’ve gained the qualification, everyone is much happier,” he said. “I’m part of a team, now. The working environment is better.

Adult learning has given me so much more confidence in my work. We’ve covered absolutely everything and I know everyone in every department by name. It’s made my job easier.”

And despite the challenges, Matthew says it’s the best job he’s ever had, adding “I love it - I’d recommend it to anyone. It’s perfect if you love the gym or playing football, as it’s a massive workout. I do 22,000 steps a day. If you like the sound of all that and you can cope with the idea of having bin juice spraying over you in high winds - it could be the job for you!”

Head of Waste Management at the council, Chris Howell, said “The benefits of the trainee partnership are evident on the ground with fantastic work attitudes, flexibility in terms of working on if needed, and involvement, as it leads in rolling out a new recycling promotions and collection initiatives.

“Throughout the traineeship, as well as providing flexibility and attention to detail well in excess of what would normally be expected, there were numerous compliments from the public highlighting fantastic examples of going the extra mile.”

Ken Skates, Minister for Economy and Transport, with responsibility for Skills, said: “The Inspire! Awards demonstrate that education is for young and old – learning is a lifelong activity.

“A nation of skilled workers is good for Wales’ economic well-being, for personal well-being from the sense of achievement that learning brings, and social well-being which helps to address loneliness and isolation.

“Skills help people and communities thrive, not just survive. Skills help people into work and improve at work allowing us all to keep up with a changing world and rapidly transforming workplaces.

“The Waste Management Team in Swansea and all of the Inspire! Award winners are to be congratulated for their achievements and importantly, for inspiring those around them to consider picking up a new skill or returning to education.”

David Hagendyk, Director for Wales at Learning and Work Institute, said:

"Now more than ever we understand the impact that going back into learning can have on making people healthier and happier, as well as improving prospects for their families and at work.

"We hope these stories will inspire adults from every corner of Wales to take that first step back into learning.  There are opportunities to learn out there and professionals ready to help you access the support you need.  So if you have been inspired, now is the time to act and to start learning again."

Working Wales, delivered by Careers Wales, is the Welsh Government’s new free service to help people aged over 16 to find long-term employment.

Working Wales will allow people who are not in full-time education to access free, expert advice to help identify and overcome barriers that are stopping them from securing and maintaining good quality jobs, from a lack of confidence, the ability to access transport, childcare arrangements, and health problems including disabilities.

The Inspire! Awards are coordinated by Learning And Work Institute Wales and supported by the Welsh Government, the Open University in Wales, Agored Cymru, the National Centre for Learning Welsh and Adult Learning Wales.

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