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A changing culture: results from Pulp & Paper Canada’s recruitment survey

Our human resources survey establishes new market insights about how pulp and paper mills in Canada are approaching the skills gap

October 14, 2019  By Kristina Urquhart

This past summer, fuelled by the ongoing conversations in the industry about the skills gap, Pulp & Paper Canada conducted a survey of mill management to learn more about how pulp and paper mills in Canada are handling recruitment, reskilling and retention.

Senior-level staff weighed in on hiring, training and investments – and we also asked non-management about their preferred methods of training and what job concerns keeps them up at night.

We had 66 responses from across the country, from mills big and small producing everything from kraft pulp to BCMTP, tissue to containerboard. Thank you for your participation!


What you said

“We need more youth involved with trades related to pulp and paper – maybe offer more opportunities for high school students to see what careers are available in local areas.”

New roles

“Every level/position has changed over the last decade,” said one respondent. “The ability to keep individual contributors in SME-type roles has been overtaken by the need for experience to advance into other roles.”

Some positions that have either taken on a new form or disappeared altogether over the past decade include consultants, clerical support and process operators – employees in roles affiliated with the distributed control system (DCS) now work alongside the IT departments on initiatives such as boosting cybersecurity. Onsite tradespeople such as masons, welders, fabricators and carpenters have been reduced by attrition, with contractors being employed instead.

What you said

“It’s the millennials that are needed to take over from the baby boomers. There has to be a change in the work culture to attract the millennial thought process. Perhaps we need to provide iPads and unlimited internet as a job benefit. Ask the question: what would attract a 20-year-old to a paper plant and have them excited to become an electrician or millwright or machine tender?”

Retraining and retaining

Sixty-seven per cent of respondents in senior roles said their mill would face the skills gap over the next five years by equal amounts hiring new workers and retraining/reskilling existing workers. Another 26 per cent said they would face digitization mostly by retraining/reskilling, and seven per cent said they would mainly be taking on new hires.

When it comes to training, mills are using a combination of strategies: peer-to-peer training (80 per cent), continuous learning, online modules and apprenticeships/internships (each 68 per cent), coaching/on-the-job shadowing (64 per cent), vendor-specific training (60 per cent), third-party training companies (48 per cent), universities or research partners (12 per cent), and mobile apps (eight per cent). To see which methods workers prefer best, see the survey results.

As for retention, mills employ everything from competitive compensation (80 per cent), benefits packages (72 per cent), rewards or incentive for safety or production goals (56 per cent), ongoing training opportunities (48 per cent), safety programs (44 per cent), regular feedback (36 per cent), professional goal setting (28 per cent), personal goal setting (24 per cent),onboarding programs (16 per cent), and community service programs (eight per cent) to appeal to workers.

What you said

“Be active in the community in promoting opportunities and quality of life by working in the forest industry. The perception is pulp and paper is in its golden years, yet technological advancements to meet social wants will put pulp and paper back as a vital industry, with many skill sets required.”

To see what else respondents shared with us, view the full survey results in the Fall 2019 print or digital edition of Pulp & Paper Canada.

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