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Continuing Education in the Industry – Going … Going ..


July 1, 2003
By Pulp & Paper Canada

With the outcome of many continuing education courses in doubt, one might think that the pulp and paper industry is neither planning for a lifetime nor reading enough Chinese proverbs.”All the courses…

With the outcome of many continuing education courses in doubt, one might think that the pulp and paper industry is neither planning for a lifetime nor reading enough Chinese proverbs.

“All the courses are having difficulty surviving because of low attendance. The programs are suffering,” says Ron Crotogino, director of education for the Pulp and Paper Research Institute of Canada (Paprican).

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Not only suffering — some programs are being scrapped altogether. Both the pulp and paper masters program at McGill University and Paprican’s wet-end papermaking chemistry course, Paprichem, have been discontinued because of low enrollment.

“Participation hasn’t improved as it came down over the years. It has got to do with the state of the industry in general,” explains Claudette Harland, Papricourse coordinator.

It is not only Paprican that feels the effect of low student turnout. The Pulp and Paper Technical Association of Canada (PAPTAC), which offers five to six courses per year covering major processes, is feeling its share of the loss.

“Unfortunately, I concur with Paprican — participation has been down in the last two years,” says Carmie Lato, course coordinator for PAPTAC. “Training is very important but unfortunately it is perceived as a short-sighted project.”

Supply and demand

Pulp and paper companies seem to acknowledge the importance of these courses but, because of the stagnant economy, the same companies are forced to cutback from a limited number of options.

During these adverse circumstances, training seems to be on top of that list.

“Lack of participation has a lot to do with the cost [of the programs]. Companies are simply trying to balance their books or not staffing up as much as they want to,” Crotogino explains. “All companies are on the cost-cutting mode.”

But just like a paraphrase of Adam Smith’s best-known principle in his 1776 book, Wealth of Nations, when there is no demand for training, then there will be no supply of courses.

“Programs are driven by supply and demand,” says Theo Van de Ven, director of Pulp and Paper Research at McGill. “When very few students are inquiring and enrolling, there’s no need in giving the courses.”

PAPTAC recognizes this problem as well. “We’re not attracting a lot of young people,” Lato says. This is a major problem which PAPTAC is already addressing, according to Lato. “We’ve started the student open house during PaperWeek to attract those who are not yet in the industry.”

Best of times, worst of times…

Lato maintains that, irrespective of the economic climate, now is the time for training.

“Training is the kind of thing that people have no time to do when things are good,” she says. “And when things go bad, they cannot afford to do it. Much like a Catch-22.”

This is especially true, she points out, with the current situation of the industry when the average age of employees is closer to the retiring age.

“Mills must have a different foresight. A lot of people will retire in five to ten years and there will be a mad dash of new people to train,” says Lato. “They have to plan for that now!”

Crotogino agrees, and looks at it as an opportunity. “There’s a perception in the industry that we’ll have a major turnover of personnel in the future,” says Crotogino. “Some of those [retirees] will be replaced. The high rates of new employees — that’s where the potential is.”

For every action, a reaction

As industry associations try to adapt to the situation, most mills are doing their part as well.

David Cameron, assistant director for research and development at Tembec, attended the recently held Papricourse along with three colleagues. The course, held in the spring in Paprican’s Pointe Claire, QC, location, offered an overview of papermaking for beginners.

“This is a very competitive, fast-moving industry. Because of the competition, there’s a lot of development — there’s a lot of technical advancement,” Cameron explains. “The best way to get ahead is through these continuing education courses. You can stay up-to-date with the best available technology.”

Another student this year was Jason Seabrook, process specialist at NorskeCanada. “This is a good course to get a grasp of papermaking,” he says. Seabrook thinks the quality and cost- competitiveness of these courses are the key to encouraging more students.

Attracting interest

Paprican and PAPTAC are dedicated to increasing enrollment by trying different methods to entice participants.

Harland, who coordinated Papricourse, as well as other technical courses being offered by Paprican, says one way to attract more participation is by listening to the clients. “We try to adapt, we listen to sustaining members,” she says.

Papricourse, for instance, was being offered as a nine-day course in the past, but now it’s down to five days to accommodate the busy schedules and budgets.

“We are exploring modern tools to be able to reduce travel time and travel cost for our clients, as well as ourselves,” explains Crotogino.

As for PAPTAC, Lato says trying different things to encourage feedback is the way to go.

“We identify industry needs so that we can offer courses that are useful and at the same time they will be interested in,” she says. “We rely on needs-analysis surveys sent to mill managers, human resources directors, etc. This year, though, we are going a different route and we will send the surveys to all our 4,000 members via our news bulletin. We hope to get a lot of feedback.”

This change in approach is bearing its first fruits as support from mills is beginning to grow. Papricourse, which is normally held at the Paprican laboratory in Pointe-Claire, will go to Vancouver, BC, next year on NorskeCanada’s request. The mill wanted to train 10 to 15 new employees and, certainly from a financial point of view, it was logical to make the course more accessible to the mill.

Support is vital

Both organizations agree that the industry’s support is vital to the survival of these programs, since pulp and paper companies benefit directly from these courses.

“The programs aim to improve the skill levels and effectiveness of present and future employees of the industry,” Lato explains. “The programs provide an ideal opportunity to gain perspective on issues facing the industry, as well as to keep abreast of the newest developments and latest technologies,” she adds.

Crotogino cannot agree more, “(Students) are taught by the researchers who are advancing these fundamentals and routinely apply them in mills.” He adds that networking with Paprican staff is a valuable bonus for the students since “they gain access to a vast repository of up-to-date expertise that they can activate with a phone call or e-mail to solve problems, improve operations, or improve product performance.”

Both says these are just some of the direct benefits that companies can gain by sending participants to the courses.

Moreover, Lato says, participants return to their working environment better prepared to solve operating problems and optimize existing equipment and processes. Results from her eight years of co-ordinating PAPTAC courses can attest to that.

Courses are here to stay, for now

Presently, there are two papermaking courses being offered to students at McGill University’s chemistry department. Paprican has four standard courses and will try to continue offering these courses in the coming years. PAPTAC has at least five courses scheduled in the coming months and will try to increase the types of training being available. Several international organizations are also offering continuing education courses.

Together, these associations are trying to be forward-thinking about the future.

“We were not reaching people the conventional way so we will try to reach them through distance learning,” says Van de Ven.

New initiatives are being made with several Quebec colleges and universities to create this method, where students acquire skills and knowledge through mediated information and instruction at a distance. This program is l
ikely to compliment the busy schedules of participants since the students don’t need to be physically present in a classroom.

“Together with Ecole Polytechnique, we have applied for a government grant through the Valorisation-Recherche Qubec, to be able to offer distance education,” Van de Ven explains. “It was approved and we now have the funding ($600,000). We’re in the process of putting together the program,” he adds.

With the collaboration of both McGill University and Paprican, as well as the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie, the CEGEP de Trois-Rivires spearheaded an initiative to set-up online papermaking courses. It is a program with three pulp and paper courses for undergraduate students.

“We will give it a try,” Crotogino says. “We will try and build a continuing education infrastructure that will allow distance education that can be customized to have limited contact time,” he adds.

Crotogino says Paprican has introduced modern presentation techniques like a two-day course using a combination of a lecturer on-site and an interactive five-lecture CD. Paprican is also planning to incorporate more video-conferencing and webcasts in their courses.

“I think that is where the future is going.”#text2#


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