Len ChristopherAs seen in Waste Advantage, February 2023 Issue

Q&A with Len Christopher, Vice President of Operations, Leadpoint Business Services, on investing in people, responding to workforce trends, and what is ahead for 2023.

What are some of the factors that are currently affecting staffing issues and how did they change throughout 2022?

The #1 factor that effected recruiting at Leadpoint last year is wages– people will go where the wage is. Leadpoint and others in the recycling industry need to pay a fair wage and do right by our people because if we don’t, someone else will.

We saw continued investment in automation so that had some effect on headcounts at the sites we support, and we started to see large employers in other industries laying off people. That’s a good thing for our industry because it means there will be more people in the job market to fill open positions, but only if our wages are competitive in the marketplace.

What were the creative ways organizations dealt with staffing challenges in 2022? Do you believe it will improve in 2023?

We spent a lot of money and time on initiatives to fill open positions in 2022, like referral, recognition, and reward programs. All the data we have show these tactics are nice, but don’t have an impact on turnover rates. What makes a real difference is taking an interest in people, moving away from a “There’s always more where they came from” approach, and treating them right. And at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what programs or tactics we offer if we’re not competitive on wages.

I believe this will continue to be the case in 2023. We’ve seen that MRFs that are proactively engage with employees one-on-one and pay the right wage see the results in a stable workforce, improved recovery rates, and higher quality of material processed. I also acknowledge that commodity markets will continue to be a factor in 2023. As markets dip, there can be reluctance to process wage increases.

At Leadpoint, we still have plenty of opportunities. Working in a MRF isn’t a glamorous job but there are good people out there who want to work, and where wages are fair and competitive, our sites are fully staffed, and things are good.

What workforce trends to you predict for recycling in 2023?

People want to get back to work, especially with inflation, things costing more, and people getting laid off. Beginning in late 2022, we began to see a definite increase in applicant flow. On any given day, we now have 175-200 interviews scheduled and are hiring 20-25% of applicants. During and after the pandemic, we were lucky to hire percent of applicants. We expect this trend to continue in 2023.

Another 2022 trend was investment in renewable secondary plastics processing by some of the big names in the industry. How did workforces respond to this trend?

Plastic recycling operations are like MRFs in terms of what the workforce is doing– sorting and quality control. That’s why we expanded our business into PRFs and post-consumer recyclables in 2022. Recycling is our wheelhouse. It’s our core competency.

In addition, I think the growing number of PRF and PCR plants are going to help with consumer education around recycling. “Wait, my plastic bottle is being pelletized, creating a new product, creating fuel, adding jobs in my community?” Stories will get out that will improve understanding of our industry and solidify the fact that recycling is working in a complete circle.

What effect do the regulatory changes in 2022 and into 2023 have on the ability to recruit and do business?

Regulations like the recent organics recycling bill in California are good for the state and environment but from our standpoint, they don’t affect jobs or workforce issues. We’ve heard of communities doing away with recycling programs and changing practices about how some material is being handled, like fiber or glass. That’s where the concern is. Are the economics not working? Is there a struggle moving tons? Those are the things that effect the workforce.

Equally important is consumer education. The #1 comment I get from people when they walk into a facility and watch recyclables go through the process from the tip floor to a warehouse full of baled commodities is, “I had no idea.” For most consumers, what goes in the recycle bin is out of sight, out of mind. We can’t take every homeowner into a MRF, but we can invest in cart tagging programs, like those spearheaded by The Recycling Partnership, and drive real results. When you go through neighborhoods, look at what people are getting rid of, and tag Joe Homeowner’s cart, people start to pay attention. Until it affects consumers personally and they understand why and how change their behavior, the result is minimal.

How did M&A activity in 2022 affect Leadpoint and our customers?

To us, M&A activity is a benefit. We’ve built a lot of relationships over years and years and are fortunate that way. When there’s a transition, we can have a team in place ready to go, whether we’re working with someone new or with a current customer that purchases a site we don’t currently support. We can hit the ground running and get employees and support staff on board without missing a beat, which makes transitions easier on our customer who is acquiring.

What workforce safety trends or practices do we foresee in 2023?

Our incident frequency and severity measures were down 15 percent year over year at the end of 2022, continuing a trend of double-digit improvement. What’s driving this trend is our top-class safety program, which starts at the interview. It’s all about educating the employees– getting in front of folks, daily toolbox talks, making sure people are wearing the proper PPE every day, and being aware at the site level. It helps to have a stable workforce, low turnover, and dedicated onsite managers to lead the way.

Len Christopher can be reached at (602) 431-0410, email Len.christopher@leadpointusa.com or visit https://leadpointusa.com. 


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