Shiloh Ainuu: The accidental waste enthusiast

One of the highlights of the Waste Innovation and Recycling Awards was the speech given by Young Professional of the Year winner Shiloh Ainuu. The mother of seven gave an inspiring account of her journey from being rejected for a job on the drive-through at McDonald’s when trying to re-enter the workforce after 10 years of being home with children, to her involvement in the design and project management of the construction and implementation of six remotely operated weighbridges. These weighbridges allowed her employer, BINGO Industries, to service customers 24-hours-a-day, six-days-a-week. 

As it stands, Ainuu’s introduction into the industry was accidental. She had applied for a job at McDonald’s but never received a reply. At about the same time, her father saw there was an opening at BINGO Industries for a weighbridge operator. Ainuu wasn’t thinking of joining the waste and resource recovery sector, not because she didn’t want to, it’s just that she never even thought about it as a career.

“There isn’t a massive awareness around the waste industry in terms of a career,” she said. “It’s almost like, unless you know someone in it, it’s not something you’re looking for. And yet now it’s the thing I’m most passionate about. I wish more people knew about it. I have two daughters who work here at BINGO, four of my sisters work here, and my brother also works here.”

Ainuu got the job as a weighbridge operator. In fact, she started on the day she was called in for an interview. Seven years later, she has now worked her way up to be the operations excellence manager whereby she makes sure people within the company meet the operational standards that BINGO has implemented. She must get buy-in from staff when new policies and procedures are brought in. Is it a hard sell?

“I think the most beneficial part of the job is bringing people along that journey with me,” she said. “That is made easier due to the relationships that I’ve built. They trust what I say. If I tell staff that I believe that a particular procedure is the best way for us to do it, they jump o board, and we do it.

“BINGO is one of those places where you’ll never get bored. There’s always something to do.”

Ainuu learned a lot of things as she was climbing the company ladder. One of her proudest moments was the weighbridge project that was mentioned in her nomination for Young Professional of the Year. She was given the opportunity to put the project together, and while it was daunting, she saw it as a great opportunity to grow.

“The person I was supplying operational support to at the time moved over to the construction section of the business,” said Ainuu. “He said, ‘Look, we’ve got this project going on that’s weighbridge oriented and I think you’d be great for it’, which is how the construction and engineering part came into it. 

“It was then that I figured I didn’t have to be the expert at the table but had the ability to absorb all of the learnings that were going on around me. And I also realised that I have value to add, which is an operational knowledge of something that we’re going to construct and engineer, and he trusted me enough to say, ‘I know that you know the ins and outs of this thing. I want you to create your ideal weighbridge’. And that was the beginning of that. 

Read more: BINGO ramps up circular economy drive

“And now when I see it operating – our one-year anniversary of this operating just passed recently – I think of the people telling me it couldn’t work, or it wasn’t going to work, and, and all these things, and am happy how it turned out. There was an endless list of queries like ‘is the truck really going to be able to turn that turn?’ But we’d thought about all those things. And when you see it operate the way that it operates, it’s pretty awesome.”

Another aspect of her job she likes is that BINGO Industries takes onboard ideas and solutions, not just because they have to due to legislation, but because it’s a good idea. This comes into play whereby one BINGO location in Victoria might be legislated to do something that a location in NSW is not required to do so by law, but the NSW depot will adopt the practice if it promotes good practice within the company.

Ainuu was originally from New Zealand and went back and forth to her homeland until she finally came back to Australia and settled down at 18, when she had her first child. By the time she was 28 she had seven children in tow, and while some people may find that daunting, Ainuu herself is one of 10, so she was used to big numbers, although having so many kids at a young age was never the plan.

“Honestly, after two we were going to stop,” she said. “I was like, ‘this is done, I can’t do this’. I went through postnatal depression – all of it. Then my mum said to me, ‘you know, the more you have, the easier it gets’. And I was just like, ‘there is no way’. Then we had five more after that. And it does get easier.”

How did the work/family life balance pan out?
“The first couple of years, unfortunately it worked out in my favour,” said Ainuu. “I say unfortunately, because my father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer, which meant my husband and I switched roles. He had the kids and was looking after his dad at that time. The other thing that helped is that we lived on the same street as my parents.”

And if Ainuu ruled the world, what are some of the issues she would like to see come to the forefront of peoples’ minds when they think of the resource recovery industry? First, she believes that the industry doesn’t put enough good stories out in the media. She feels there are a lot of negative articles, which has a knock-on effect of not attracting the best people to the industry. Not that there aren’t some very good people in the industry, Ainuu points out, but there could be more in the employment pool if they could see the benefits of working in resource recovery. 

“The waste industry doesn’t sound amazing to a lot of people, and the perception can also be very stereotyped,” she said. 

“I think the way that we can attract people – including younger people and women – is by setting examples and setting pathways for them.

“It’s an exciting time to join the waste and recycling industry as we look to transition to a circular economy. At BINGO, we are investing in technology, innovation and partnerships to achieve more diversion of waste from landfill.  We are already achieving waste recovery rates of up to 80 per cent, and are now solving for that last mile of residual waste. I would encourage more women in particular, to explore the career paths available in our industry.” 

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