- During a workshop at the ISRI 2018 Convention and Exposition in Las Vegas, speakers discussed how to find and retain recycling industry talent in a changing economy. The underlying theme, which also arose during a number of other convention workshops, is to be cognizant of and cater to generational differences in the workforce.
- As more baby boomers exit the workforce, attention turns to millennials — approximately aged 24 to 38 this year — who focus more on work-life balance, engagement with employers and growth. "Help them grow or watch them go," said Tannen Ellis-Graham, CEO and co-founder of CareerKarma360.
- The generational shift away from industrial, manual labor or perceived "dirty" jobs, such as those in scrap recycling, means employers should focus on attracting candidates by demonstrating a strong, positive workplace culture and creative benefits. "The [scrap recycling] industry desperately needs people ... It's very hard to find people in this industry so we need to go outside the box," said Sammy Holaschutz, non-ferrous trader for W Silver Recycling.
Businesses across the board are struggling to get younger generations interested in joining the recycling industry. "A lot of people that we talk to say scrapyards are dirty ... They don't understand it, but the perception is it's dirty, it's hard work," said Holaschutz. In many cases, "scrapyards also don't have your typical kitchen with a latte machine," so it's hard to compete with sexier jobs, such as those within the tech industry, he said.
Because of that perception, recycling businesses can benefit from branding and marketing themselves creatively and playing to millennials' desire for positive workplace culture. But the marketing aspect is key, before even attempting to recruit new talent, Ellis-Graham said. Google, for instance, invests a lot of time and money in marketing and advertising its workplace culture, which is "the reason you know they have a latte machine and a slide," and why talent flocks to the company when it posts jobs, she said.
Because workplaces and employee needs differ, management should identify what aspects their particular employees would prefer. "Get creative inside your company and come up with what your employees want ... Find what's important to your team," Ellis-Graham said. They might not want lattes, but rather free soda, candy bars or hot chocolate. "If that saves one turnover, it's worth buying hot chocolate." She mentioned one company that set up a cereal bar for employees, which might appear odd to outsiders, but the concept worked. "If they ever took that cereal bar away from that company, everybody would leave," Ellis-Graham said.
Again, marketing these features and the office culture can attract talent. "If you have Taco Tuesday and you start posting about Taco Tuesday [on your website], people in an interview will say, 'Tell me about Taco Tuesday.' They won't say, 'Tell me how much scrap'" you process or sell, Ellis-Graham said.
Showing appreciation for and engaging with employees in small or low-cost ways also works, she said. Management can consider offering alternative work hours, mentoring programs or even simple thank you notes.
Part of getting creative with recruiting and retention goes beyond benefits and workplace culture. It can also mean compromising on qualifications if a candidate possesses skills that are harder to train. For example, "Trust is such a big part of ... any team in the scrap industry," but the businesses "can't find people we can trust," Holaschutz said. He suggests that a candidate who is trustworthy but doesn't necessarily have recycling-related skills could be more valuable and more worth pursuing than skilled employees, because many industry skills can be more easily trained than trying to instill trust and loyalty.
Other qualifications to focus on besides traditional labor skills include diversity and candidates who embrace and work well with other cultures. That's particularly important as businesses become more global. "Be open minded and be flexible, because you might find people out there that might have three different skill sets, [and if] you spend the time to train them you can morph them into a trader or operational manager," Holaschutz said. In fact, Holaschutz didn't have any scrap experience, but W Silver Recycling recognized that he speaks Spanish and is good with numbers, and therefore he could fit as a scrap metal trader for their bi-national company.
"We spent a lot of time developing a culture of bi-nationality, we want that diversity. We're looking at people in other industries all the time, and we're willing to train them and onboard them," Holaschutz said. "If you focus on a diverse [skill] set, if you embrace that difference and you train them the right way, people will stay longer with you and new talent will be willing to talk to you more."