Research & Innovation
CEO SERIES: Meeting the Leaders
By Pulp & Paper Canada
Members Make the OrganizationAlthough he ranks as the highest-ranking executive at Pulp and Paper Technical Association of Canada (PAPTAC), Dennis McNinch, its chairman, typifies the spirit reigning a...
By Pulp & Paper Canada
Members Make the Organization
Although he ranks as the highest-ranking executive at Pulp and Paper Technical Association of Canada (PAPTAC), Dennis McNinch, its chairman, typifies the spirit reigning at the technical association: sacrifice for the betterment of the membership. Its mission statement, which was written almost 100 years ago, contains similar sentiments. “Our mission is to improve the technical and professional capabilities of its membership worldwide, and to the advancement of the pulp and paper industry,” says McNinch, who is also director of product development and marketing at Domtar Inc.
The Montreal-based national association currently has a little more than 5,000 members, consisting of engineers, technologists and professional operators. “We have a very active membership,” McNinch points out. PAPTAC comprises 10 branches across Canada, from the Atlantic branch in Newfoundland to the Pacific Coast branch in British Columbia.
McNinch says that two issues keep him on his toes: Industry consolidation and an ageing workforce. Both deeply concern McNinch and the executives at PAPTAC. “We’ve been trying to address both issues. And they are related. For one, because of consolidation, there is a smaller Canadian workforce. The industry is not hiring very many people, including younger workers.”
Simply put, consolidation is having a significant effect on the technical association. Even so, PAPTAC has managed to keep membership levels up, even as other technical associations worldwide face declining number of members. “Our membership has not decreased nearly as much as sister technical associations in the world,” he says. “We’re still attracting new members.”
PAPTAC continues to draw members from new places. Whereas in the past, PAPTAC’s membership lists mainly included professional engineers, today it’s a different story. Members come from the ranks of what McNinch calls “professional operators” — the men and women who manage complex mill processes. “Professional operators have the same need as others to participate in our courses,” he notes. “Companies today rely more heavily on their technical training to support their operations.”
True enough. As mills increasingly rely on high-tech equipment, there is a corresponding need to have in place operators who understand how to get the most out of the equipment they operate. One of the best ways to achieve this kind of technical proficiency is through specialized training courses and technical meetings, McNinch explains. “The things that we at PAPTAC do best are the training courses, the dissemination of technical knowledge through Pulp & Paper Canada — which is a very well-received value-added feature — and the exchange of knowledge at the branch level.”
Typically, branch meetings draw between 300 and 400 people, a setting dedicated to the exchange of information. Much of the talk centres on technological innovation and how to keep up with the pace of change. “Twenty years ago, many people never looked at the pulp and paper industry as a high-tech industry,” McNinch says. “Today, however, the industry utilizes some of the highest technology of any industry — just walk around a modern paper machine.”
Technology needs people
One can’t lose sight that one of PAPTAC’s stated aims is to equip its members with the latest technological findings, so as to ensure that Canadian mills remain highly competitive. That goal usually translates, in practice, to teaching operators how to take advantage of the marvels of high-speed technology. To wit, how to operate large, fast-running paper machines equipped with electronic process controls with the fewest number of people. “Compared to any industry, we truly use the best of technology,” McNinch says.
Of course, technology, as important it is to make mills more productive, will never completely replace the need for people. “We haven’t managed to develop remotely operated paper machines,” he says. “And I doubt that we’ll ever will. A paper mill is a great capital undertaking, and technology alone cannot guarantee profitability. You truly need people to take care of that.”
And people have to be informed of the latest R&D findings. It’s no secret that the Canadian industry is falling behind in that area, particularly as it closes technical in-house departments and expects to gain the knowledge through a network of suppliers. Such strategies will put the Canadian industry at a disadvantage to the Americans and the Europeans. “In the short-term, it might help us compete, but in the long-term it will increase the challenges that we’ll have to face,” McNinch says.
In short, Canadian companies will have to buy the knowledge from outside the country, and even outside the industry. “The difficulty of doing true research will fall on the shoulders of those outside the industry,” he points out.
Which will put pressure on PAPTAC and its members, the chairman of PAPTAC points out. “I see a membership that will have a continued need for training and development. I see a membership that will have less sources for that training, particularly as research facilities and university resources diminish. Perhaps, we’ll develop a ‘Made in the pulp and paper industry training such as the all mill operator training program at the mill, PAPTAC is trialling currently.'”
Such is the spirit that marks the industry and PAPTAC members. Even as the industry faces difficult challenges, it has a rich legacy, McNinch says. “We have to believe that paper will continue to be a valuable part of our lives. We’ll continue to read newspapers and magazines, and to make photocopies — and that part of our lives won’t disappear for years.”