Pulp and Paper Canada

Features Q & A Women in Forestry Workforce
Continual change: Q&A with Kerilynn Hnatuk, assistant environmental coordinator at Alberta Newsprint Company


Kerilynn Hnatuk

Who: Kerilynn Hnatuk
Role: Assistant environmental coordinator
Employer: Alberta Newsprint Company
Lives in: Whitecourt, Alberta
Years in industry: 19

Kerilynn Hnatuk was a single mother looking for a stable job at an environmentally responsible company when she joined the pulp and paper industry. Now, she’s helping to continually improve Alberta Newsprint Company’s footprint through optimization projects on the mill’s waste management system.

Pulp & Paper Canada: Tell us about your role as assistant environmental coordinator at Alberta Newsprint Company (ANC).

Kerilynn Hnatuk: I first started out working in the lab as a co-op student and then worked my way up to my current position.

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A typical day can include overseeing the operation of our activated sludge treatment system and testing, regulatory reporting, cost reduction and optimization projects, and assisting with the administration of ANC’s 63 MW power generation plant.

PPC: What has been the project you worked on that you’re most proud of?

KH: Leading our team in the optimization and control of our activated sludge system by developing an acute understanding of the organisms and indicators that drive the system.

This, and applying an understanding of changes within other mill processes, has helped me develop a healthy troubleshooting skill set and lead a proactive approach to basin operation.

By staying proactive, we have kept the system out of upset conditions for 10 consecutive years.

PPC: What did you study in school to prepare you for your career?

KH: I completed a two-year diploma in environmental monitoring and compliance, which focused on environmental sciences as well as environmental law.

At the time I enrolled, environmental issues and awareness were becoming more significant. I felt the scope of knowledge provided in the program would give me a diverse skill set to meet future employment needs.

PPC: What got you interested in the pulp and paper industry?

KH: I was a single mother of two young children and a recent college graduate. I jumped at the opportunity to work with an industry leader, in an environmentally responsible industry that could challenge my abilities and allow me to be financially independent for my family.

You do have to prove yourself and work hard to earn their respect. It takes determination and self-confidence to persevere in a male-dominated industry.

PPC: What were your biggest challenges when you started your career?

KH: On a personal level, my greatest challenge in the beginning was balancing both my career and being a single parent. There were times when I felt very overwhelmed, but having a great support system got me through the challenging times.

PPC: Do you still find challenges in your role, as a female or otherwise?

KH: Yes, typically the personnel on the operational side of a pulp and paper facility is mostly male.

As a female in this industry, I do believe you do have to prove yourself and work hard to earn their respect. It takes determination and self-confidence to persevere in a male-dominated industry.

This can be challenging at times, but can also be very rewarding and drives me to do my best.

PPC: How have you seen the pulp and paper industry change over the course of your career?

KH: I sometimes refer to the beginning of my career as the “hay days.” At the time, the demand for newsprint was high and the future outlook was steady and established.

With the demand for newsprint in decline, ANC is constantly exploring opportunities to optimize and diversify its product portfolio.

ANC is also expanding into other areas of business such as oil and gas, and aggregate. This continual change keeps things interesting and challenging.

PPC: What about with regard to females working in the industry?

KH: I’ve witnessed more women taking on more of a leadership role in the sector, which is promising. It still has a long way to go but I have seen progress and an increase in gender diversity over the length of my career.

PPC: What advice would you give to someone, especially a female, thinking about a career in the pulp and paper industry?

KH: Definitely go for it! There are many opportunities in the industry right now as the baby boomer generation retires.

It is an exciting time to be in the pulp and paper industry as it tries to reinvent itself. If you are up for a challenge and view change as an opportunity, then it is a great time to join.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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This post is part of CFIPulp & Paper Canada and Canadian Biomass’ Women in Forestry project celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8. Find more content here and follow on social media with the hashtag #WomeninForestry, as well as #IWD2020 and #EachforEqual.