E-waste can have an afterlife educating next generation of highway technicians

24 of February of 2023

As a chief operating officer, part of my job on a daily basis is to champion innovation, identify improvements and search for efficiencies to boost income or reduce expenses for the business, as well as improving the comfort of highway users. So, when I read about Cintra’s Make A Difference Challenge I knew I would have to submit a proposal.

The focus of Make A Difference Challenge is finding specific solutions to improve day-to-day operations or contribute directly to social or environmental improvement of the company. The challenge, introduced by Cintra’s ESG department , seeks new initiatives and ideas in the areas of the environment, society and governance (ESG).

A knowledge program using e-waste for practical demos

My idea was to combine operational technology (OT) e-waste (electronic waste) from our projects, and the extensive knowledge of the people who operate these devices, to provide local schools, technical colleges and institutions with resources and a tailor-made programme for young people interested in learning more in this fascinating field.

It could work in any of Cintra’s concessions globally where this kind of technology is used and where there is an appetite for technical training in highway OT systems.

Training would be given on site by experienced staff from Cintra’s highways using e-waste elements as materials for explanations, demonstrations, and practice sessions. These expert employees already have solid teaching experience, from training new staff to use these systems. 

The knowledge programme is a vital part of this idea. We would forge partnerships with educational institutions in communities close to our highways. 

We believe there is a need for and an interest in such programs – technical colleges in our area already send us student interns to gain experience working with our systems. We envisage the programs would be aimed at 16–20-year-olds. The exact format and contact hours of these courses still need to be thought through.

Three key objectives

Discovering the next generation of new talent

  • On Cintra highway concessions, we have to operate and maintain more and more OT systems. This is only going to increase as connected and autonomous vehicle technologies continue to develop.

Toll road OT systems are usually highly specialised, unlike more common IT systems. Precisely for this reason, we can become dependent on external providers to operate OT systems, due to a lack of qualified staff in house.

At the moment, it is difficult to find people coming out of schools and colleges with the skills and knowledge we need to fill OT systems jobs. This proposal certainly provides a real opportunity to discover and hire the next generation of new talent.

e-waste ready to be recycled

  • The second objective is to give an afterlife to OT devices from our highways. As more and more new technology comes in for autonomous and connected vehicles, there will be a surplus of existing equipment – cameras, radars, antennas, variable message panels and other related items – ready to be recycled.

At present, this equipment is treated as electronic waste and is just thrown away. We get no revenue in return – in fact, we pay for it to be disposed of in a specialised way.

From local to global: our commitment to communities

  • Finally, the proposal aims to give back to communities close to our highways. As a company, we have a global commitment to have good relationships with these communities.

Of course, a big hope for this project is that trainees would come back and work for Cintra in the future. But those who don’t will still have knowledge in this area that will help them get jobs elsewhere. There is a mutual benefit.

Potential to pilot, anywhere in the world

If the decision is taken to go forward with my proposal, the next step could be to establish a pilot on one of Cintra’s bigger highway concessions, find a local education institution that is interested and design a knowledge programme together, before selecting the first cohort of students.  

This pilot could happen anywhere in the world where Cintra has highway projects and staff in house with good knowledge of OT systems.

Really, the only resourcing the project needs is hours of time from Cintra staff. We don’t need any other funding or investment. We already have e-waste, teachers in house and rooms to teach in.

So, what would success for my project look like? Knowing the volume of e-waste from our projects that is being recycled through our initiative. Better still, seeing a photograph on the company’s channels of a first batch of students graduating from one of our knowledge programmes on OT systems. Best of all, finding out that some of those students are now working on Cintra concessions.

When that happens, we will know we have truly Made A Difference.

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