Name: Sarah Dickinson
Degree: University of Huddersfield, Bsc (Hons) Geography (Applied)
What is your work title and what do you actually do?
Recycling Officer – London Borough of Haringey
My role involves a number of different tasks and I also deal with anything that might arise in relation to the provision of the front-line recycling collection service.
Some of my tasks are:
- Developing new services
- Evaluating and monitoring existing services
- Reviewing processes and procedures to introduce improvements
- Dealing with resident complaints
- Speaking to residents on the phone and at meetings
- Attending meetings
- Health and Safety
- Procuring recycling containers
- Performance statistics
- Contractor liaison
- Monitoring participation in services
Were you always interested in this career?
I didn’t intend to work in the Waste industry. I chose my degree because I enjoyed the subject and as part of the course I did a 3-month placement at Lincoln City Council in the Local Agenda 21 section. Part of the work I did involved reviewing purchasing to buy ‘greener’ goods including recycled products and writing a guide to reducing, reusing and recycling a wide variety of items. The whole of idea of reusing resources made sense to me, and my interest continued from there. I’ve now worked in the industry for almost 7 years.
What do you wish you’d known when you were an undergraduate?
There are 2 things I wish I’d thought about as a nave undergraduate:
What was really important – is it money, doing something you love, having a profession or wanting a work/life balance that really drives you? I am happy with what I’m doing now but knowing that would have sped things up a bit.
In the real world your degree isn’t that important, it’s what you do every day that counts – having a degree doesn’t always earn you respect; it’s how you act, what you can do and how you react that is important to your colleagues.
Do you have a postgraduate qualification? If so, has this helped your career?
In 2003 I undertook an MProf in Leadership for Sustainable Development run by Forum for the Future in association with Middlesex University. The actual qualification hasn’t directly helped my career but what I learned about myself during that year has influenced me considerably and will continue to do so.
What do you like most about your job?
The best thing about my job is the variety of the work. One day is never exactly the same as another. There are some repetitive tasks but there always seems to be a slightly different twist to each thing, a different resident, a different understanding of a message or a new idea that needs researching and developing.
Another positive aspect is that I can actually see the changes I recommend taking place on the ground. I can make a difference. I can encourage people to recycle, to reduce their waste and to make conscious decisions that will help our environment.
I work in an operational depot with the staff that make the collections. They are a varied group of people with such a wide range of experiences. This job allows me to meet people that I would never have spoken to otherwise and it is fascinating to hear about their lives and experiences.
Are there any downsides to what you do?
I work in an environment that is uncontrolled: you can’t predict when a resident will call, when a political crisis arises or when a vehicle chooses to break down. This can mean constant interruptions which make it difficult to sit down and complete a task.
What do you think are the most important skills/strengths you need to make a success of what you do?
To do this job you need to:
Have people skills – you need to be able to listen and assess what you are being told in order to make a decision, to explain information clearly so your message is understood and to manage potentially volatile situations.
Be able to solve problems – all sorts of things can happen you need to be able to think on your feet and come up with solutions very quickly.
Investigate – getting all the facts together is very important you need to be able to find out all the information to inform decisions.
Be flexible – all sorts of things can happen and you need to be able to adapt.
What would be your best piece of advice for graduates wishing to come in to this sector?
With both local government and the waste industry there is far more to it than meets the eye. If you are thinking about working in either of these areas research thoroughly, and the best way of doing this is to speak to people working in them.
If you want to work in the waste industry get in touch with the Chartered Institution of Waste Management and find out the contact details for your local New Generation Group. The New Generation Groups are made up of graduates and others new to the industry and are a very useful source of knowledge and experience.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Your experience of working in local government will be very strongly influenced by the people you work with and the political structure of that authority. Don’t judge working in this sector by one experience – I’ve had some bad experiences in this sector and I have had some extremely rewarding ones – it really is down to the people you work with – I think more so with this sector than others.