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Recycling industry is a flag-bearer for apprenticeships

Jack Arksey


The Apprenticeship Levy has been helping to bridge the UK skills gap since larger employers began paying into and drawing down on the scheme from April 2017. In the first three and a half years, around 650,000 levy funded starts were created with apprentices enjoying 12-months or more guaranteed employment and at least 20% off-the-job training.

Since the inception of the policy, which applies the levy to employers with a payroll over £3milion per annum, apprenticeship programmes have been developed across multiple industries. School and college leavers have been given a career start alongside existing employees that were interested in upskilling or retraining for a professional qualification.

However, it wasn’t until November 2018 that the metal recycling industry was able to bring forward its own version of an apprenticeship - called the Metal Recycling General Operative (MRGO). Two years on, the scheme is growing from strength-to-strength and, in a statement of intent, the MRGO has become a de facto case study in how an industry can work together for mutual benefit.

Working for companies of all sizes, from large multi-nationals to SMEs to family-run independents, an MRGO apprenticeship sees an individual taking on a wide range of different tasks and responsibilities - both outside on the yard and in an office-like environment.

Apprentices are trained in the virtues of being a team player, charged with handling all types of equipment and will perform the many tasks undertaken in a metal recycling yard. MRGOs will identify different metals, sort and separate them into grades and understand the commercial impact grading has on the organisation.

Other tasks could involve processing End-of-Life Vehicles (ELV), Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) and Large Domestic Appliances (LDA). Apprentices also develop a knowledge and appreciation of a wide range of processes, site administration, risk assessment as well as legislation relating to metal recycling.

By attaining these skills, apprentices will be able to competently operate mobile plant and equipment, such as a forklift truck, shear and cable strippers. As such, safety forms a key element of the role with workers expected to work safely within a team to ensure materials are processed and handled in the correct and safest way.

EMR at the heartbeat of progress

As one of the original trailblazers bringing forward the idea of the MRGO, EMR has always taken an interest and played an instrumental role in securing the funding and accreditation.

Led by Chris Williams, Head of Learning & Development at EMR, apprentices have enjoyed a clear career path offered by the MRGO and full-time employment upon its completion.

Chris and his team have invested more than four years of hard-work getting the programme up and running to where we see it today - celebrating its second-year anniversary.

During that period, the success of the MRGO apprenticeship has seen EMR go on to create another qualification. In July this year, the Level 5 Metal Recycling Technical Manager Apprenticeship standard was approved, a managerial qualification which supports individuals in their career progression.

Metal recycling can now show that, as an industry, there is an attractive career path for those wanting to join the sector. In fact, the scheme was even recognised by the National Recycling Awards in 2019 when the MRGO went on to win the “Excellence in Learning and Development” category.

Chris Williams, Head of Learning & Development at EMR, says:

“Historically, the waste and recycling industry has not the greatest reputation for cross-organisational working, which is common-place in price-competitive sectors like ours. So, the very fact the MRGO programme even exists is testament to the deep trust and mutual goodwill that our fellow trailblazers have shown over the last two years and more.

“The need to address the skills gap, in industries that are perceived to be less glamorous, means we have to fight harder than others to attract the right talent. We have to work even smarter to retain them, which is where the MRGO really comes into its own. There is a job there at the start and a job there at the end - with true skills development in-between. It gives stability, confidence and a sense of purpose to the apprentice and employer alike - so that we can grow together. It’s a big reason why the apprenticeship levy is more than just a funding mechanism. It matters so much more than that.”</P.

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