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Three Takeaways from the Waste & Recycling Employment Outlook

Stefanie Valentic

June 30, 2021

6 Min Read
Stefanie Valentic

The National Waste & Recycling Association Women’s Council highlighted some of the industry's most thought-provoking human resources leaders in the waste and recycling industry at this year's WasteExpo.

In a session titled, "The Waste & Recycling Industry Employment Outlook," these individuals provided their insight on talent acquisition, workforce development, employee retention, diversity and inclusion, working amid COVID-19 and more.

Panelists included:

  • Shweta Kurvey-Mishra, Vice President, Organizational and Talent Development, Waste Management

  • Amanda Mickelson, Vice President, Human Resources, McNeilus Truck & Manufacturing

  • Sue Netherton,Vice President,  People, Training and Development, Waste Connections

  • Heather Stalvey, Vice President, Human Resources and Administration, Environmental Solutions Group

Kathy Trent, senior public affairs manager, Waste Management, led the discussion. Here's a look at three questions and how our speakers answered them.

Trent: How did your company develop and maintain confidence with that continuous shifting of federal and state emergency order restrictions; moving employees from the office to home to back to the office; and maintaining that trust with employees who reported every day to work?

Kurvey-Mishra: One of our first goals is to be a people-first company, and we really put our money where our mouths are. When we talk about people first, this gave us an opportunity to really think about what that meant for this management. We offer a 40-hour backstop to all our frontline employees and others if their work was reduced due to the pandemic, They were guaranteed a 40-hour week reach for all our employees. We also want to think about People First in a holistic way. This wasn't just about financial well-being, it was also about emotional well-being. It was mental health, well-being.

We increased our offerings for our employee assistance programs. We created circles for our managers to make sure they knew how to deal with this pandemic and during the stressful time. We expanded our program for emergency childcare services for departments. Frontline workers were coming to work and schools were closed, daycares were closed. So we expanded our child care services. And we wanted to make sure that our safety protocols were kept front and center. 

Netherton: This was probably one of the most difficult years most of us have experienced. And really our approach was to really focus on our frontline employees, and really just go back to what we do every day, which is our culture and our values and let that guide our decision making through COVID. 

We decided to put in some kind of company-wide policies to support our employees to make sure that they could take care of their families, which obviously there was so much fear and uncertainty at the beginning. We wanted them to know that we had their backs, and they were going to be able to take care of their families first. We started with a wage program, so that if anyone was home because of COVID whether they were exposed or they were sick, or they were taking care of someone in the family, we covered their wages, and we did that for the frontline workforce. 

We really didn't put much of a limit on it because we knew our frontline leaders would make the right decisions for the right families. In addition to that, we added additional pay, and we went as far as basically just making it a broad policy for union employees or non union employees. We actually went out to our major temporary labor vendors and provided additional pay to our temporary employees as well. And additionally, there's bonuses. We treated our folks, whether they were at home working on customer service versus out picking up the trash the same and helped everyone. The way that we dealt with the constant shift is really just to use our decentralized model. Our leaders out in the field have a lot of autonomy on how to run their businesses in their local market. So, we let them have guidance, safety protocols, programs and then we let them make the decisions locally that works best in the market so they were able to keep up with the changes in the state. So, that worked well for us.

Trent: How does your organization uniquely think about attracting and retaining talent to in today's workforce with today's labor shortages. Can you share your innovative approach to your companies, how they examined it, and what they're implementing today to meet those needs?

Mickelson: The types of ways that we've been things we've been investing in has been increased orientation and onboarding, a much more robust training offering we're lucky to have some new training facilities in the last couple of years, and really just working really hard in a positive, you know, culture and, you know, a positive environment, kind of like everyone is talking about the culture is really key in retaining all of our team members. I'd say one of the more forward looking things that we've been doing is working to build out stronger career pathing for all of our positions, both on the office side, and all the different functional areas but as well as well in the manufacturing areas as well. So we recently watched that and that is also really focused on retention, we want to bring in those bring in these people train them up and let them advance their careers and advance their pay by staying with us and learning more.

Stalvey: We need to look at it from two parts. The first I would say the retention of the current people that we have but also all of you. How many of you have had more issues with labor post COVID than before. Pretty much everybody, right? This isn't a new problem.  I think it has been kind of exacerbated by the fact that COVID made it very difficult for us to get people to work. One of the things from an ESG perspective that we're thinking about is whether you're an independent hauler, or you're a dealer, how do we get your drivers up to speed faster with the products and services that we make?

Trent: Can you share some examples of the strategies for attracting, managing and retaining employees, recognizing that there really are generational traits?

Netherton: Back in 2019 before the pandemic, we were hearing from our managers out in the field that they were really struggling with how do they coach and how do they motivate when they have this really diverse group of employees. So we actually engaged an outside expert. He and his team have done some deep research on the differences between the generations and helped our leaders learn more about how to coach how to motivate what the differences are so that was one of the ways we wanted to help our leadership team deal with the differences. In addition to that, we have really focused on engaging with employees through technology. 

Once you understand the different generations and respect them individually, I think that leads you to what is your workplace culture. Positive workplace culture attracts talent drives engagement, impacts happiness and satisfaction and affects performance. The personality of your business is influenced by everything. Furthermore, continuously reviewing and flexing your company's brand is one of the most vital responsibilities. 

About the Author(s)

Stefanie Valentic

Editorial Director, Waste360

Stefanie Valentic is the editorial director of Waste360. She can be reached at [email protected].


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