Building the future of metals recycling

Written by: Antonia Grey | Published:
The Metal Recycling General Operative's first apprentices

While apprenticeships have their routes in the medieval craft guilds of the Middle Ages, it was the Statute of Artificers 1563 that introduced an official national apprenticeship system.

The Act of Parliament, which was a means of controlling entry into those skilled trades listed through privilege, mandated a compulsory seven-year term for the apprentice to learn his trade. In fact, no-one could set up as a master or workman until he had served this time. The statue was only abolished in 1813.

Apprentices grew across the 1900s, moving into newer industries such as engineering and continued to flourish throughout the war years and on into the 50s and 60s. By the end of the 70s, apprenticeships were in the doldrums and there they remained until the birth of the modern apprenticeship which, via one or two rebrands, became the system we have today.

The Metal Recycling Trailblazer group began work on its level two Metal Recycling General Operative apprenticeship in 2016 and, just over two years later, we launched our pilot. It was the culmination of much toil, effort and patience by representatives from: ELG, EMR, FJ Church, Mellor Metals, Network2Supplies, Recycled Products, Recycling Lives, S Norton, Sackers, Sims Metal Management, Ward and BMRA.

It was, in fact, Graeme Carus, formally of EMR, who first spotted the opportunity that the Government’s Apprenticeship Levy offered the metal recycling industry in terms of developing its own, sector-specific training and, potentially, a recognised career path.

It was also clear that the apprenticeship would provide an ideal opportunity for more experienced employees to share their knowledge while filling a real skills gap.

More importantly, the apprenticeship should also raise awareness of the wide-ranging skills and abilities that are already found across the sector and which, until now, have not been recognised.

As we were developing the Standard for the Metal Recycling General Operative, it became clear that given the diversity of tasks carried out on any given yard and the need to tailor it to different yards, we would have to offer both core and different routes to specialise. The Trailblazer working group settled on five options: materials handler; materials classification; end-of-life vehicles; waste electrical and electronic equipment; and weighbridge. In effect, we really created five different apprenticeships.

While developing the Standard and pulling together the knowledge, skills and behaviours for the core and options was easier, it was more challenging writing the end-point assessment plan and creating an acceptable scoring system. This is perhaps why I am not aware of any other level two apprenticeship that has options.

The working group’s next challenge was to get the funding band reassigned. Initially, we were offered just £3,500, not even a third of the predicted cost to cover the training. However, following some in-depth conversations with the central team, our funding band was thankfully revised upwards to £9,000.

Pilot launch

It is little wonder, given the journey we had been on, that we wanted to celebrate the launch of our apprenticeship with the pilot cohort before they begin. The apprentices in our pilot are from ELG, EMR, Recycled Products, Recycling Lives, S Norton, Sackers and Sims Recycling Solutions. They were joined by their employers, Sir Gerry Berragan, chief executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships, the Earl of Clancarty and members of the press.

The event itself was hosted by EMR in Willesden, London and we are very proud to say that it was launched by Sir Gerry, who congratulated the industry and said: “This is a fine example of one of the key things that we are trying to achieve through the institute – the introduction of new, high-quality apprenticeships to sectors that have not had them before.

Each new apprenticeship starts with a blank sheet of paper and takes a huge amount of hard work and dedication to get it to a point where it is ready to launch from the trailblazing employers. I know it is not an easy process, and I was delighted to be able to help you celebrate reaching this point.”

Speaking as an employer of apprentices on the pilot, Andrew Brady, CEO of EMR and British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA) board member, commented: “The future of this industry depends on the next generation of metal recyclers and today marks the celebration of the first-ever sector-specific apprenticeship. With this apprenticeship, we can now offer a specialist, professional and tailored qualification to new and existing employees.”

Susie Burrage, BMRA president and managing director of Recycled Products, which also has apprentices on the pilot, added: “The two years of hard work by the working group has brought the apprenticeship to fruition.

"The tenacity of those who wrote the Occupational Standard and End-Point Assessment Plan really shows in the final product. We are now able to show a definite and attractive career path for those looking to join the sector.” She also went on to say that the apprenticeship will breathe new life into the sector.

New opportunities

Liam Murray, a Metal Recycling General Operative first cohort apprentice at Sackers, said: “This is going to give me useful knowledge and make me more useful to my company. I feel good that I’m going to be getting some really good training but will also be paid at the same time.”

Liam and his fellow apprentices now face between 12 and 18 months of training as they look to move towards and through the end-point assessment and become a qualified Metal Recycling General Operative.

Once they move through this gateway, the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) has offered them the opportunity be become a technician of the institute, thus underscoring the professionalism of a career in the metals recycling sector.

Successful apprentices can then look forward to moving along an amazing career pathway to, perhaps, take on the sector’s level four apprenticeship, which is currently in development and moving through the IOM3 recognised membership grades.

Moreover, we see the apprenticeship as a first step in promoting companies operating in the metals recycling sector as science, technology, engineering and manufacturing (STEM) employers. In the coming months, we will look to work with organisations that promote metals recycling and STEM, with me and fellow BMRA representatives becoming STEM ambassadors.

Antonia Grey is public affairs and communications manager at British Metals Recycling Association.

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