360 degrees sustainability training – Meet Cleanaway Graduate Program’s Joel McCarten

Joel shares his experience working across our Solids, Liquid Waste and Health Services businesses, as well as Engineering and Rehabilitation teams with Cleanaway’s Graduate Program.

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November 10, 2020


"Being a fresh graduate from university, I didn’t know what to expect of a graduate program. It was an awesome opportunity to be able to work across Solids, Liquid Waste & Health Services, Engineering and Rehab."


"Being a fresh graduate from university, I didn’t know what to expect of a graduate program. It was an awesome opportunity to be able to work across Solids, Liquid Waste & Health Services, Engineering and Rehab."

Joel McCarten graduated from Melbourne’s RMIT University in with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science and joined Cleanaway’s Graduate Program in 2020. We spoke with him to find out what his experience was like, what advice he would give to future graduates, and what he hopes to achieve next.

Joel McCarten

Joel McCarten

Why did you apply for Cleanaway’s graduate program?
I knew about Cleanaway before I applied for the program as I am interested in the waste management industry and I studied environmental science, so it was a good match. It’s a growing industry and I didn’t realise how big Cleanaway was before joining.

What was your first rotation like?
I worked with the Environmental team across different sites in metro Melbourne, as well as visiting sites in regional areas like Mildura and Portland. My first task was to write up a waste acceptance procedure for the newly acquired SKM facility. Working onsite most days meant I got a really good understanding of the Solids side of the business, followed by experience in the Liquid Waste & Health Services side of the business. I also gained insight through talking to EPA and council visitors to learn what they’re interest in when they come out to sites.

It was a very valuable experience and I built positive relationships with the Environmental team, as well as people at different sites. Just being able to talk to them and see what they do day-to-day provided a lot of knowledge about how the sites work. It’s been a really great six-month start to the program.

What kind of support did you receive from your managers and supervisors?
In my first rotation, we had an Environmental team meeting each week to go through everything that was happening, which I was always involved with. I also spoke to my manager on the phone a few times every day to ask questions and we had a catch-up meeting once a week to see how things were going and to check if I needed anything else from him. You’ve always got someone to talk to if you need help, so it definitely felt like I had plenty of support.

What did you enjoy the most?
Every day was different – I could be onsite taking stormwater samples one day, then working from home to write up a management plan the next day. Then I’d be back onsite to make sure the plan made sense and that the team was happy with it, then it would be implemented.

Not doing the same thing every day was great. Working both outside and inside means you’re not stuck in an office all day – I don’t think I could hack that. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, working from home was a weird experience.

I really appreciated being able to work alongside the team and pester them with questions all the time – I’m sure they were sick of me by the end of it! It’s just really helpful to be able to talk to someone who has been doing the work for so many years and to be able to suck all that knowledge out of them by asking lots of questions.

What were your expectations coming into the program and were they met?
Being a fresh graduate from university, I didn’t know what to expect of a graduate program. Coming in, I didn’t know how big Cleanaway was and it was an awesome opportunity to be able to work across Solids, Liquid Waste & Health Services, Engineering and Rehab.

After studying environmental science, I never expected that I would have the chance to work with the Engineering team at such a huge company, or work in a chemistry lab. Any expectations I had have been well and truly met, and then some.

During your first rotation, have you been able to apply the skills you gained from university?
Yes, I think so. Even from doing a little bit of chemistry at university, it’s all familiar and doesn’t feel brand new. There are still things like specific environmental rules and regulations that you don’t gain exposure to until you’re actually here.

So far, would you recommend the graduate program to future graduates?
Yes, absolutely. It’s an amazing opportunity to be involved in such a big industry with a large company like Cleanaway. I’m really excited to see what the rest of the rotations will bring. The industry is only getting bigger, with more technology involved, and it’s great if you can get your foot in the door.

What can future graduates expect from the program?
It’s a really fast-paced work environment – things seem to happen so quickly here. If you can adapt to that, it will set you on the right track. You can see sites all across Australia and get a really good understanding of how they operate.

Getting to do such a long six-month stint in different areas of the business gives you lots of opportunities to work with experts in the field and gain really valuable knowledge, which you can take with you throughout your career.

What advice would you give to graduates looking to find their first job?
Put yourself out there and just be up for anything that comes your way – be adaptable. Coming out of university, I applied for a fair amount of jobs and obviously you don’t get every job you apply for. You will get knocked back a few times but try to learn from that.

Try to find out where you can improve going forward. If you’re lucky enough to get an interview, be as calm as you can. I know I was quite nervous going in, but it’s important to be yourself and show that you’re going to be a good person to work with. People try to give perfect answers, and there is always a time for that, but I think interviewers want to see who you are as a person and not just a robot reciting perfect answers.

Talk to as many people as you can, find out what they do, and make connections. Keep reading – just anything and everything – and ask lots of questions when you have the opportunity. Coming in, I was a bit nervous about asking too many questions. Everyone always says, “there’s no such thing as a dumb question”, which is true. Try to stay as positive as you can, be proactive, and be eager to learn.

Based on your first rotation, do you feel that you want to work for Cleanaway once you’ve finished the program? Do you have a role in mind?
I would love to stay with a company like Cleanaway, although I haven’t decided yet what role I would like to take on. Coming out of university, I really wanted to get involved in either the waste or water industry, as I figured there’s always going to be a need for both of them. Being from the country, water was always a massive thing – if I can help people and help that industry thrive, I would feel accomplished. I will just have to wait and see what happens after the program, I suppose.

Cleanaway’s Graduate Program
In 2019, Cleanaway launched our Graduate Program, designed to create career pathways for recent graduates through hands-on experience and insight into Cleanaway and the waste management industry as a whole.

The Graduate Program is tailored for people who have completed an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in the previous two years and involves rotating placements lasting up to six months, offered in areas including:

  • Engineering (Civil/Chemical)
  • Chemistry/Environmental Science
  • Supply Chain & Logistics

The launch of the program saw hundreds of applications submitted, with the successful graduates commencing with Cleanaway in early 2020.


Cleanaway is committed to promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, driven by employment and decent work for all. We are aligned to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as described in our 2020 Sustainability Report.

Contact us to learn more about the incredible men and women who are making a sustainable future possible through a career with Cleanaway.