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Editorial: Message your mill to attract new recruits


October 16, 2019
By Kristina Urquhart
Kristina Urquhart

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At a PACWEST panel this past June, Dr. Mark Martinez, director for the Pulp & Paper Centre at UBC, said that, in addition to investments in research, recruiting for the pulp and paper industry requires ongoing changes to the curriculum.

“We have to look ahead to what the needs of pulp mills will be in 20 years, so we can educate [people] now and make them into the future leaders,” he said.

David Gandossi, president and CEO of Mercer International, said that mills could attract more people by investing in technology to eliminate unsafe and lower-end jobs. “Invest in retention and you’ll see the greatest return,” he said.

The theme of PACWEST was “The Future is Now: Investing in People, Technology and Assets.” A few weeks later, Pulp & Paper Canada addressed some of those topics on our first-ever survey on recruitment and retention in pulp and paper.

Investing in assets over the next five years is indeed a priority for mill management – good news despite the global downturn in demand for fibre. Planned technology adoption includes new equipment (for 68 per cent of respondents), artificial intelligence/predictive analytics (56 per cent) and automation (44 per cent).

But it was no surprise that, for management, the number one concern of the “invest in people, technology and assets” mantra is the people. Sixty-eight per cent of respondents said they are “very concerned” about the skills gap. The pulp and paper workforce is retiring and, with them, years of knowledge are disappearing from the manufacturing floor.

The phenomenon has become a bit of a perfect storm, because there is a very small pool of people available to fill those vacant positions. Sixty-one per cent of respondents said that not having enough applicants is one of their biggest challenges. Forty-two per cent said there is a lack of applicants with the correct combination of technology skills. Another obstacle: 65 per cent said it’s difficult to recruit people to work in remote areas, where most mills are located.

“In our mill in particular, the turnover of employees seems to be high, which makes it challenging for the team to advance,” said one respondent. “Add to that a good number of old-timers retiring and the task ahead looks daunting.”

One respondent pointed out that we must fundamentally shift the way mills attract young people. Millennials and their successive cohort, the Gen Zs, are technologically savvy. According to Deloitte’s 2019 Global Millennial Survey, they also want to feel connected to the work they do, and will be more loyal to employers who are committed to social responsibility in areas such as the environment and diversity.

The paper’s authors suggest starting conversations with millennial and Gen Z employees to discuss the issues they care about, and how they might feel more engaged in professional development. They also advise companies take a vocal position on issues that have a societal impact.

Pulp and paper mills are already heavily involved in their local communities and in improving their effect on the environment. The industry has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 70 per cent since 1990 and is aiming to reduce another 13 per cent by 2030. Solutions to reducing plastic waste are making more room for paper in the marketplace. Canada is a leader in sustainable forest management. It’s time to let the younger generations know.

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A condensed version of this editorial originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of Pulp & Paper Canada.