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Change-maker in charge: Q&A with Renée McIvor, supervisor of millstores operations and purchasing at Port Alberni

March 8, 2023  By Sukanya Ray Ghosh

Who: Renée McIvor

Role: Supervisor of millstores operations and purchasing

Employer: Paper Excellence, Port Alberni


Lives in: Port Alberni, B.C.

Years in the industry: 16

As a First Nations woman in the pulp and paper industry, Renée McIvor is proud of adding value through her important role in Paper Excellence’s Port Alberni. She hopes to see more young women inspired to find opportunities to learn and grow here.

Pulp & Paper Canada: When, how and why did you come to join the pulp and paper industry?

Renée McIvor: I grew up in Prince George. My dad worked at Canfor’s Northwood Pulp Mill. My brother works in the pulp and paper industry. I’ve got two nephews that work in the industry.

I worked on the contract management side of things for the pulp and paper mills in Prince George, B.C. That is how my relationship with this industry began. I always hoped to work in a mill at some point, especially since my dad spoke so highly about this industry. It provided people with stable and well-paying jobs to support their families. I feel that my love for this industry was instilled in me since my childhood.

I remember tagging along with my dad when he would go to the mill to pick up his check. The mill often had baseball tournaments that I also got to attend. I was basically surrounded by mill people!

My visits to the mill never intimidated me as a child. It felt like a safe place to me. And it was reassuring to see my dad happy there and come home safe. It felt natural to follow in his footsteps.

When I first moved to Port Alberni, there was no spot available in the mill for the procurements department here. So, I got hired as the executive assistant to the general manager. That was my foot in the door to get into the industry. That role taught me so much about the industry.

My dad worked in the pulp mill. They didn’t make paper in that mill. The whole papermaking process was new to me. It can be a bit intimidating walking down the aisle beside both paper machines. I was floored from the very first day and could see that I would love my career here.

It’ll be 10 years this year that I’ve been working at the Port Alberni mill. And I have been in this supervisory role for seven years now.

P&PC: What has your learning curve been like in this industry?

RM: When I started here, I had no idea what the papermaking process is like – how you get the chips and then you turn into pulp and the pulp feeds the paper machines. I was really fascinated when I first toured the mill to see everything that goes on here.

In the role that I am in, I’m amazed by the number of different chemicals that are used to make certain types of paper. My crew orders the different chemicals and ensures that our mill has enough chemicals for the number of runs for the papers that we produce here.

I wish more people could see how the paper mill works. I have a 14-year-old daughter. And the mill is right in the centre of the community where everyone can see the steam boiler stacks. My daughter once said to me that the smoke is polluting the air and I explained that what we see is actually steam, not smoke, coming out of the boilers. So, I believe, people would be amazed if they ever saw the mill from the inside.

I have managed the learning curve that comes with working in this industry. I have always committed to being patient with myself and remembering that nobody is perfect. Instead of looking at my initial performance and seeing shortcomings, I have learned to focus on where I am succeeding so that the areas that I need to improve on don’t seem as daunting.

P&PC: What is your current role and what is your day-to-day like in this role?

RM: I work in the corporate procurement department. Currently, I am the supervisor of millstores operations and purchasing. I supervise the millstores and janitorial crew. I administer work assignments and monitor deadlines. I meet with the crews regularly to identify and resolve problems. I also counsel employees to correct deficiencies and recommend disciplinary actions if required.

I participate in the implementation of goals, policies, priorities for procurement activities and operations. I’m required to maintain responsible business relations with vendors and stay informed on new products and services and current prices. I also evaluate vendor performances when necessary, just to make sure that everybody is following the proper procedures and policies. And I also process purchase orders and requisitions, solicit quotations, place and expedite orders and maintain and keep records.

We have corporate community engagement teams here. And last year, I was chosen to be a part of it. So now, I also lead our community and Indigenous engagement team here. Paper Excellence acknowledges that building effective dialogue is a cornerstone of building good relationships. In the community here, we’ve built wonderful relationships with many of our local businesses. And we’ve also built great relationships with our First Nations that are here in Port Alberni. And we are going to continue to grow those relationships further.

P&PC: What are some major projects that you have worked on? Any particular favourites?

RM: In my role, there are not a lot of new projects that I would technically be a part of.

There is one thing that was a huge undertaking for us in our department. I have played an integral part of many warehouse relocations over the years, due to the sale of a large portion of our land and the closure of our Powell River location. This has been a difficult task to manage as we are limited for space on site.

We are making our way through this and see a light at the end of the tunnel, having cleared a large area of what used to be our Groundwood, which was decommissioned quite a few years ago.

This will give us a ton of warehouse space.

Overall, we play a big part in a lot of the projects that go on here. We order all the parts and pieces, and get the contract signed. We have a single source form that needs to be filled out for anything over $3,500. My team gets the ball rolling, getting the vendors on board, sending the purchase order to the vendors and then tracking all the parts and pieces to come in to complete the jobs.

It has been wonderful. We’ve been revamping both of our paper machines to be able to give us a brighter future ahead.

P&PC: Throughout your time in this industry, are there any particular challenges that you have faced?

RM: One challenge I faced was when I was transitioning into a supervisor role. I put a lot of pressure on myself to prove that I didn’t have to be held to a higher standard than my male counterparts, as women are systemically placed on an uneven playing field.

Another challenge has been advancing my career to a higher position, in management for example, within the company. There are a lot of responsibilities and duties that come with those roles. Being a mom, I have always been very focused on maintaining a healthy work-life balance, and in my current role, this allows me to do so.

I have to add that I was very proud to take on the role of supervisor and in the industry. I am First Nations. So, I was very proud to be an Indigenous woman in such a valuable role in the industry. I hope that it helps younger Indigenous women realize that they can work in such an industry in a very important capacity. It’s an unfortunate stigma that so many people think that industry is still mostly for men. It’s amazing how many females we have at our mill who are actually in very important roles.

P&PC: What do you love the most about being a part of the pulp and paper sector?

RM: I definitely have to highlight that our companies in this industry are constantly innovating. We are creating new applications for products in response to the market dynamics and demands. We are constantly changing. This gives me confidence that the industry has a bright future. It provides a sense of relief.

P&PC: What has it been like as a woman in this industry?

RM: I actually have had a wonderful experience being a woman in this industry. Every company I’ve worked for has been so encouraging. They have helped to grow my career and supported me with whatever I needed, even with courses or training. I cannot express enough how grateful I am to have been provided with the opportunities I have here.

P&PC: Any anecdotes you would like to share about any moments in career that have stayed with you?

RM: Just the one thing for me is becoming a supervisor in the industry as a woman. It’s been apparent that men were placed in these roles. Growing up i I never ever really heard of women being in the industry. As time went on and I got a little bit older, I would hear about a woman coming on board. But such instances were so few and far between. Now there are more and more women supervisors, managers and executives in our industry. It’s just such a huge accomplishment for all of us. And these women should be really proud to be in these very important roles.

P&PC: What do you see in your future in this industry?

RM: I definitely see myself retiring from Catalyst Port Alberni. It’s a great community to raise our family. We are essentially a big family here at the mill. So, to be able to continue working in the industry is my plan. As I mentioned before, with us creating new products for the demanding markets and our sales and marketing team rocking it, they are definitely ensuring that we have a bright future ahead.

P&PC: What advice do you have for women who want to build careers in this industry?

RM: This is a great industry, and there is a lot of opportunity for increased diversity in the workforce. Our company recognizes the importance of a diverse workforce and is continuously taking action to support more diversity. Overall, we need more people in our workforce, and to see more women join our industry would be wonderful.

And there are so many roles for women who wish to join this industry. In our mill, for example, we have a female electrician, a female instrument mechanic and a female millwright.  We have women in our shipping and distribution centre, millstores and also on our janitorial staff.

It would be great to have job fairs to invite high school students to see all the different roles that a paper mill has. It is not just paper makers. There are so many moving parts and pieces that keep this place running.

This article is part of  Pulp & Paper Canada, CFI and Canadian Biomass’ Women in Forestry series, an annual celebration of women in the industry. Find more content here and follow us on social media with the hashtag: #WomeninForestry.

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