Solavann Sim, regional manager of the field services division for SCS Engineers, took a chance in 2007, when he left his family’s construction business to work at Waste Management as a site engineer. At the time, Sim had no experience in the waste and recycling industry but felt that he could make a difference in the industry with his strong engineering background.
After working with Waste Management for five years, Sims made the switch to SCS Engineers to work with a broader range of clients. And since then, Sim has put his engineering background to use by creating smart and efficient designs for landfills and solutions for both rare and common landfill challenges. In addition to his role at SCS, Sim is a member of the Solid Waste Association of North America’s Young Professionals group, which is comprised of individuals who represent the future of the solid waste and recycling industry.
“Sol listens closely—he listens to understand both the technical and business issues at hand that are important for our clients,” says Galen Petoyan, SCS Engineers senior vice president and director of field services operations monitoring and maintenance (OM&M). “And that’s one of the reasons why clients and SCS are able to quickly move forward on new projects or mitigating a problem. Sol never over-engineers a solution; he designs and implements solutions that are cost effective and easily implemented, which is a core value at SCS and how we have remained trustworthy and ethical in our clients’ eyes. By understanding all aspects of the business, we provide greater insight to our clients and our industry in general.”
Waste360 recently named Sim to the Waste360 40 Under 40 list for his contributions to the waste and recycling industry. We spoke with him about what drew him to the waste and recycling industry, some of his responsibilities as regional manager of the field services division and how he’s helping SCS to develop a mentorship program for young engineers and field staff.
Waste360: What drew you to the waste and recycling industry?
Solavann Sim: I actually entered the industry by accident, which I think is a common trend amongst many people in this industry. But it really has been a series of fortunate events for me.
My family has a construction business so I was first exposed to the waste industry from the construction side of it. While working for the family business, I dabbled in landfill construction and that really interested me.
When the economy took a dive around 2007, construction wasn’t the best market to be in so I started to explore other areas where I could put my engineering skills to work. I ended up taking a site engineer position at Waste Management and slowly moved into the realm of landfill gas. I worked for Waste Management for five years, and then I joined SCS Engineers so I could broaden my horizons a little more.
Since joining SCS, my managers have really invested in me and given me all the rope I need to do what I need to do. I have had all the resources I could possibly ask for to strive in this industry, and I have gotten to know the different aspects of the industry and the challenges and goals that come with every side of the business.
I am now at a place in my career where I think I can make a difference by applying what I have learned over the years in the consulting world, where I can reach a broader audience than the limited amount of clients I was responsible for when I was on the owner side.
I am excited to see that my efforts are paying off and making a difference because, at the end of the day, that’s what really keeps me going.
Waste360: Explain your role as regional manager and some of your responsibilities.
Solavann Sim: I have a unique role at SCS because I am part of both the engineering group and the OM&M group. I assist in engineering and help our clients develop flare designs, landfill gas system designs, treatment system designs, etc. I also manage the operations and maintenance division for Southern California, where I supervise different project managers and technicians who construct and operate a variety of systems.
Waste360: What are some of the challenges that you face in your role and how do you overcome them?
Solavann Sim: In the world of landfills, there are many different people who ultimately have the same goals but face different challenges so it all comes down to communication and getting buy in from all of the different departments, such as engineering and management. While I may not be an expert in all of the different areas, I do have enough experience to understand the goals and challenges of each department, which helps me and my team to develop the best cost-effective design plan for everyone involved.
Communication is important at all phases of the design process because things always change, and you need to make everyone aware of changes as they come up so you can work through any concerns. Our clients know their sites better than anyone so getting their input is key to making sure that we have successful projects each and every time.
Waste360: You’re one of SCS’ liquids management national experts and the youngest member of the company’s Strategic Initiatives Committee. Tell us a little bit about that.
Solavann Sim: Managing liquids is one of the biggest costs that our clients face today, and the way we manage liquids is actually going to be changing. A lot of sites are able to take landfill liquids like leachate and condensate and dispose of them at local treatment plants, but that outlet for disposal is currently being threatened by stricter standards from those treatment plants.
SCS has a number of strategic initiatives, and liquids management is one of those initiatives. With this particular initiative, we are coming up with different ways to holistically management liquids, whether it’s on the front end with trying to reduce the amount of liquids generated or on the backend with developing different treatment technologies like leachate evaporation. This ultimately will allow us to give our clients different options for the disposal of liquids when they can no longer make use of the treatment plants.
Another one of our strategic initiatives is enhancing client focus. We realize that our role as a consultant is very centric and that we need to communicate with our clients to better serve them and meet their needs. It’s not about providing them with one service; it’s about being a full-service consulting firm and helping clients take on challenges or tasks they are faced with.
We also have a strategic initiative around oil and gas and the emissions monitoring that comes with those two materials, and one that focuses on sustainable materials management. Ultimately, with all of these initiatives, we invest resources in ways that will ensure that we stay in tune with the market and that we don’t hitch our wagon to a dying part of the industry.
For example, we know that the way we manage waste today is not going to be the way we are managing waste in 10 years. Organics are starting to be diverted from landfill, and members of the public and the industry are looking for new ways to recycle and minimize the amount of waste they produce. If we continue to manage operations only for the way that we manage waste today, we will be behind the curve.
SCS is also on the forefront of investing in technologies like our SCSeTools database, which collects, monitors, views, charts, graphs and manages environmental data from sites in a range of industries to help clients operate more efficiently. We are seeing more and more people wanting data quickly because they are so used to having the world at their fingertips with smartphones so we are trying to keep up with that demand going forward.
Waste360: The Environmental Protection Agency has been going through a lot of changes lately. Do you think those changes will have an impact on how you develop designs in the future?
Solavann Sim: The changes are scary and daunting, but we have a lot of smart people on our team at SCS who are looking into the changes. Right now, it’s all very uncertain, to be honest. And while certain government funding may be limited, I don’t see it impacting SCS drastically in the near term. As for the long term, it’s really hard to say at this point.
There are a lot of things that I cannot control so rather than focusing my efforts on the different policies and procedures that may go into effect, I am focusing my attention on the things I can control. I am making clients aware of changes that may be happening in the future, but right now I am really focusing on what we are able to do for our clients to improve their operations.
Waste360: You’re helping SCS develop a mentorship program for young engineers and field staff. Can you provide some details about the new program?
Solavann Sim: SCS has been around for a long time, and we have a lot of people here with many years of experience. As a company, we want to make sure that our experienced employees are sharing their knowledge with the next generation of workers so that we can develop and mold the next set of senior managers at SCS, and this new program will allow us to do that.
We recently held our first meeting about the program at SWANApalooza, where we brainstormed ideas on how to bring together the young up-and-comers within our company to better understand their needs so we can foster this new program in a smart and efficient way. We are still in the early stages of this program right now but hope to get it launched in the near future.
In addition to that program, we also have an in-house landfill gas technician program, which provides experienced technicians with the proper training needed to move onto project management roles. With more and more technicians moving into senior roles, we realized that we need to develop a robust program to backfill the positions that the experienced technicians are leaving as they move into those new roles. We are currently working on new component of the program, which will really piggyback on our successful training and safety program.
We are also going to incorporate more technology and web-based content for employees to participate in digital training on their own time. We understand that it’s hard to find time to do all of your training in person so we are creating training materials for anything that can be done online. This new system of training will help both the newer generation of technicians and the experienced technicians who may need to learn a new program.
Often times when you are hiring technicians, you have the choice of hiring someone with a lot of experience or someone with little to no experience. At SCS, we want to find motivated, hardworking individuals who will make a great asset to our company. We want to be able to teach someone who doesn’t have landfill experience about the way we do business because it’s really hard to find someone who already has that experience. This program will allow us to create the next generation of SCS technicians in a smart and efficient way, and that’s something we are really excited about.