It’s American Public Works Week, and we’re celebrating public works leaders in solid waste on our blog. Check back for a new profile feature each day!
From sorting on a tipping floor to directing a solid waste and recycling program, Jerry Schuber has seen every facet the industry has to offer over the last three decades.
“I can say today, I’m still learning,” says Schuber, the Director of Solid Waste and Recycling for the City of Broken Arrow, OK. “That’s the world we live in. It should be a learned experience; life is a learned experience.”
Throughout his life and career, Schuber has humbly and skillfully climbed the ranks with his faith, an open mind and a positive attitude. It’s Schuber’s readiness and resilience that we celebrate this week, as the American Public Works Association showcases the industry and its professionals through its annual National Public Works Week, May 15-21.
“It’s been a long road to Broken Arrow, but I can say it was blessed,” Schuber says. “God opened a door for me to be here.”
Schuber got his start in the industry back in 1993 as a tipping-floor sorter before directing traffic and becoming a “spotter.”
“I remember my father told me, ‘If you don’t get your act together, you’re gonna end up being a garbage man,’” Schuber says. “I said, ‘Oh okay.’ But by the second year of working in trash, I was making more than he was.”
After his time as a spotter, Schuber spent time working in the scale house, served as a safety coordinator and operations manager, and became the Safety and Training Specialist for the City of Fresno, CA. He returned to college for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, worked in code enforcement for a while before returning to solid waste as the manager, then assistant director before coming to Broken Arrow in May 2021.
“I’ve had a long career of learning the hard way,” Schuber says.
But his trials and successes have helped him on his quest to learn and lead by example. He once taught a class to a group of drivers, and though everyone was courteous and kind, he was told that because he didn’t drive, “you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Schuber thanked the driver, told his boss the story and said he wanted to earn his license to drive crew trucks — on his own time, if needed. But his boss saw it as a wonderful opportunity for Schuber and the operation as a whole, so he spent six months driving with every driver, learning how to drive the equipment, he says.
He passed his test and began driving regularly as a backup driver. “I drove every piece of equipment we ever had,” Schuber says, from the heavy equipment to the tractor trailers.
“It gave me credibility,” he says.
Credibility he flexes every day as a resource to his department.
When he came to Broken Arrow, he was ready to leave California for a place “where they didn’t have a program and wanted to build one,” Schuber says. “I was able to bring my working knowledge base here to try to help them with that, and they’ve (been) very warm and receiving. So, it’s a great city, and I’ve been very happy to be part of it.”
When he joined the team in Broken Arrow, he was immediately met with a few challenges, from stronger diversion programs which could include green waste, to completely restarting a recycling program that came to a screeching halt after the recycling facility in Tulsa burned down.
Much of the community was very frustrated with the city at that point, Schuber says, with the majority of the community asking for a recycling program and others happy without it.
“We were already dealing with those kinds of attitudes that we were going to have to work through,” he says, so right away, they began to do whatever they could to get the recycling program rebuilt and running.
“We started working on education and outreach with the public to say, ‘Hey, look, we’re keeping you in the loop,’” Schuber says. “‘It’s very frustrating and we’re all very sorry that our vendor had a fire. We will work through this challenge and move forward.’”
Schuber says he also spoke with city management to order five new side-loader trucks before they did anything else so that “when that (recycling) system came back online, we would be able to start recycling right.”
Schuber says the city restarted its recycling program in March 2022, “and we’ve already collected 414 tons of recycling in the first month,” with about an 85% participation rate — an impressive ratio considering Oklahoma does not have any recycling mandates.
“People are doing this because it’s the right thing to do, and they care,” Schuber says.
Now, the department plans to focus on cutting down contamination. Continuously setting and working toward goals is the name of the game, Schuber says.
“In any kind of program of this size, you can’t be thinking about today; you have to be thinking about five, 10 and 15 years from now,” he says.
And as a public servant, he’s ready to do whatever is asked of him. He also looks at his staff members as “people who have the opportunity to grow in an industry where growth is possible if you’ve got the right attitude.”
“First and foremost, what we do is we try to express that attitude in action,” Schuber says. “It’s the same reason that I said ‘let’s order the recycling trucks’ first. “We made a promise to the public that we were going to have a working recycling program, (so) first, let’s honor the promise we made. (Then), we’ll work on those other things … that are big on our agenda of things to do.”
By saying what they were going to do and then actually doing it, Schuber says, it tells the community “that we’re leading by example,” and it tells current and future staff members that “leadership is a verb; it’s an action word.”
In addition to recruiting people with great attitudes who embody servant leadership, Schuber and Broken Arrow also know that technology on their trucks and within their operations must be embraced to modernize their job descriptions.
“If you don’t have drivers, and you don’t have staff, you can’t get the work done,” Schuber says. “We can have all the trucks in the world, and we can have all the equipment out in the field, and we can have all the tech in the back office to do the job, but if we don’t have people … with good attitudes, well, then, you’re not gonna get the work done.”
In the future, Schuber and the team will continue searching for “really talented people who understand why customer service is so valuable, and then what you’re hiring is not so much a driver or a helper, but you’re hiring an attitude.” Schuber says if someone has the aptitude to learn, “you can teach them anything, but you can’t fake attitude.”
As for himself and his own future, “what I want and what maybe God has for me are two different things,” Schuber says.
“I always leave the door open so that he can direct my path. … My goal here is to be as successful as I can for this organization — as long as they’ll let me.”
Learn more. Are you a solid waste leader who wants to help your organization up its game? Technology from Routeware can help. Let’s talk!