Armed Forces Day Biffa Mark James

Armed Forces Day: Why Biffa is a great fit for former personnel

27 Jun 2024
3 mins
Leaving the forces can be daunting, but military personnel often have skills relevant to the waste and recycling industry including teamwork, logistics, leadership, engineering and incident management.

A former soldier and sailor who have forged successful careers at Biffa are encouraging those leaving the forces to set their sights on climbing the ranks of the waste industry. 

Mark James and Martyn Mathias lift the lid on their own journeys into waste to coincide with Armed Forces Day on June 29, an annual event to celebrate the contributions of UK veterans and those still on active duty. 

Leaving the forces can be daunting, but military personnel often have skills relevant to the waste and recycling industry including teamwork, logistics, leadership, engineering and incident management. 

And its commitment to recruiting and supporting ex-servicemen, women and reservists, means Biffa is the proud owner of a Silver Armed Forces Covenant Award, and is now working towards gold status.

Thanks so much for your time gentlemen. Tell us who you are and what you do 

MM: Hi, I’m Martyn Mathias, I’m 45, and I’m the manager of our Nottingham depot. I’m responsible for the daily running of our industrial and commercial business in the region, including 49 drivers and six office staff. I’ve worked at Biffa for 11 years. 

MJ: Hello, I’m Mark James, 52, and I started at Biffa nine months ago as depot manager for our South West Tankers team. This involves the day-to-day running of our liquid waste business in the region, which includes looking after 18 drivers and two office staff. 

Briefly describe your time in the forces 

MM: I trained as a communications specialist in the Royal Navy, spending over five years on HMS Cornwall. We twice visited the Middle East and took part in anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia. It was also where I met my wife, who was also a serving Royal Navy member. 

MJ: I joined the Junior Leaders, Royal Engineers, in 1988. After one year of basic military and leadership training, I completed combat engineer training and was posted to Germany. I’ve served in various European locations as well as seeing operational service in Northern Ireland and the former Yugoslavia twice. I also trained as a fabricator welder, combat medic, HGV driver, as well as carrying out drilling and explosive demolition works. 

Were you worried about leaving the forces and finding work? 

MM: Change is always scary but like most personnel leaving you know it's time to move on. 

MJ: Historically the military has not been great at retraining its soldiers for work outside of the forces. Also, it was common for officers and senior NCOs to say it was very difficult to find work in Civvy Street, so I did have some concerns. 

How did you become involved with Biffa? 

MM: I did cash in transit when I first left the navy, collecting cash from shops and saw a job advert for a traffic dispatcher at Nottingham which I applied for and thankfully got. If you’d have told me 15 years ago, I'd work in the waste industry I wouldn’t have believed you. Not something I ever thought of, but I love it. 

MJ: I got involved in the liquid waste business back in 2001. After working for a couple of large liquid waste management companies and then in manager roles, I ran my own tanker business successfully for 11 years. I sold my business in March 2023 and was looking for a different challenge when the opportunity to work for Biffa arose. 

What’s a typical day at Biffa look like? 

MM: No two days are the same, but our bread and butter is making sure the businesses of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and parts of Leicestershire are serviced to the very highest standard. 

MJ: I oversee operations for our tankers in five different locations. This involves managing vehicle operator compliance, liaising with customers to ensure satisfaction and that service level agreements are maintained. We also quote for projects involving liquid waste tankers, water jetting applications and hazardous liquid waste, and arrange with other depots and subcontractors to assist with ad hoc work. 

What do you most enjoy about the role? 

MM: That it's just so varied. One day I'm optimizing routes, the next day I could be out meeting customers. I also enjoy the health and safety side of the business, ensuring our drivers and staff remain safe. I also enjoy the interaction with the staff. We certainly have some characters! 

MJ: The varied nature of my role is great, but identifying opportunities for increased revenue and managing the five depots’ activities in line with our strategic plan for growth is what I most enjoy.   

What about training and support? 

MM: I started 11 years ago as a traffic dispatcher and was given the opportunity to do my transport manager Certificate for Professional Competence. And with that qualification I have worked my way up via the transport manager position at Nottingham. 

MJ: The training offered, whether delivered internally or externally, is very good.   

What’s the one thing about the waste industry that’s surprised you the most? 

MM: Just the sheer variety of packaging and other waste material people throw away, and then the interesting things that happen to it afterwards. A lot of it can be recycled, but for stuff that can’t be, it can be transformed into electricity, compost or even fuel. Even after 11 years, I’m still learning. 

MJ: The abundance of opportunities for career development is something I did not expect.  

Have you been able to apply the skills you learned in the forces at Biffa? 

MM: It's an old cliche but working as part of a team to achieve a common goal is what gets you the results. We’ve had some tough times in recent years, especially coming out of Covid, but through a lot of hard work by the staff here and working together we are in a lot better place where we continue to grow our business. 

MJ: Thinking on my feet, resilience when facing challenges at work, and completing tasks in a timely manner are all skills I have transferred from my military service. 

Would you recommend other members of the armed forces community to consider a career at Biffa?

MM: Yes 100%. I have two drivers who were members of the armed forces as well as our new transport manager. When I look at a CV, an armed forces background sticks out for me more than anything else as I know what that person has been trained to do and how to work as a team. I believe the pay to be fair for what I do, and the company is always looking for ways to improve working conditions where any issues have been raised.   

MJ: Yes, definitely. Five of my drivers were members of the armed forces. There are always opportunities at Biffa whether in a frontline position or management role. The pay, conditions and benefits are decent too. I also like the company’s approach to Health and Safety. 

PHOTO CAPTION: Mark James in 1988, inset, and today working for Biffa.