Working in a MRF can be rewarding

Unique Recruiting Techniques to Conquer Labor Shortages

As seen in Waste Advantage Magazine, November 2022

There is no easy solution for filling the employment gap, nor are there agreed-upon explanations for today’s recruiting situation or guidance on when the challenge may ease. What is clear is that employers in all industries need to be innovative and think differently about how and who they recruit, hire, and retain.
By Mike Huycke, Vice President of Business Development

“More Jobs, Fewer People Willing to Work.” This is hardly a new headline; worker shortages have been in the news every day for months. As reported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in late August, if every unemployed person found a job today, we would still have 5 million open positions nationwide. “We hear from our member companies—of every size and industry, across every state—they’re facing unprecedented challenges trying to find enough workers to fill open jobs,” the report says.

Those data are confirmed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which in its August report stated that the number of job openings is up 4.2 percent year-over-year. The number of unfilled jobs is blamed on a range of factors—from continued fears about COVID to child and healthcare issues and early retirement trends. Hiring challenges are particularly hard on industries like waste and recycling that employ people who, by definition, cannot work from home despite a desire for greater flexibility and work-life balance.

Across our industry, employers are trying new recruiting tactics and unique approaches to tackle this problem. Below we share four recruiting best practices that are paying off for companies and their employees with higher fill rates and longer retention.

#1: “Top Grading”
The starting point for recruiting people who want to work and will stay on the job is the initial interview. That is why every candidate is given an opportunity to experience the sorting process in a MRF as part of the hiring process. This preview allows job seekers to learn important components of what could be their day-to-day work. It also begins the training conversation: how to avoid dizziness by looking down the sort line, the importance of anticipating what is coming toward you, and the need for hydrating and stretching to stay fresh and limber. The top grading experience allows candidates to visualize themselves in the role and starts them thinking about the work, the team, and the company in a positive way.

#2: Create a Sense of Meaning
It is critical for candidates and employees to understand the context of working in a MRF: Why are we doing this? It is also important for them to learn about the big picture of sorting and recycling: Why is it important to keep material out of a landfill? Why is aluminum worth more than paper? When work can be connected to something bigger and employees know how their tasks fit with a company’s overall objectives, there will be a greater sense of engagement and meaning behind the job.

#3: Second Chances
Work has the power to change lives, support families, and create strong communities. However, for people with a prior conviction or failed background check, it can be difficult to find meaningful work even in today’s tight labor market. That is why second-chance hiring is becoming more prevalent. Employers can gain recruiting traction by working with parole offices and work release programs, and with community groups like The Salvation Army, Goodwill, and Volunteers of America to provide job opportunities for people who need them the most (see Building Careers in the Recycling Industry sidebar, page 44).

#4: Mentorship
Research by Gallup found that having friends at work can boost employee satisfaction by 50 percent, and those employees are seven times more likely to fully engage in their work. Those data are behind our mentor program, which pairs new recycling employees with an experienced partner on day one. The first few days of work in any job can be tough. At a MRF, the job can be intimidating, physically challenging, and confusing. Many new employees are not just new to the job, they probably have never heard of a MRF before, much less stepped inside one. They may think, “What did I get myself into!”

A mentor program creates a friendly, peer-to-peer relationship. A mentor can show new hires around, introduce them to the team, and orient them to the breakroom, restroom, and rally points. They can answer questions and supplement what is shared during training and safety huddles as well as work side-by-side with new associates and sit with them on breaks and lunches. “We know that if we can get a new sorter to show up on the third day, we have a much better chance of keeping them for the long haul,” said Jeff Bailey, Leadpoint Onsite Manager in Spokane. “Mentors are key to a new sorter’s success and safety on the job. Mentors communicate, ‘I want you here’, and that’s a huge win for engagement and retention.”

Try New Approaches
There is no easy solution for filling the employment gap, nor are there agreed-upon explanations for today’s recruiting situation or guidance on when the challenge may ease. What is clear is that employers in all industries need to be innovative and think differently about how and who they recruit, hire, and retain. Providing realistic job previews and establishing mentor programs can help. Expanding hiring standards to include second-chance employees and creating greater engagement with the work and the industry can go a long way toward creating satisfying careers in waste and recycling and helping people provide for their families.

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