PaperWeek Canada turns its lens on talent as a driver of innovation
By Kristina Urquhart
PaperWeek Canada 2020 launched today in Montreal, bringing together pulp and paper professionals for three days of learning, knowledge transfer and technical presentations.
The annual conference and trade show, which runs through Feb. 6, is the Pulp & Paper Technical Association of Canada (PAPTAC)’s 106th meeting.
Pierre Fitzgibbon, Quebec’s minister of economy and innovation, opened the morning by highlighting the role of the forest products sector in the shift to the green economy. He called for more collaboration between industry and institutions to boost the bioeconomy.
“Research centres, and university- and college-level technology transfer centres, may be called upon to support pulp and paper companies, as well as to find concrete solutions to greener methods of manufacturing paper,” he said.
Fitzgibbon cited examples such as “the production of cellulose derivatives and other wood-sourced derivatives, and the development of intelligent paper” as some of the areas where industry and research are innovating.
However, the skills gap – the number one challenge facing the pulp and paper industry according to Pulp & Paper Canada‘s recent survey – remains somewhat of a chasm for the forest products sector, and an impediment to the very innovation Fitzgibbon says that the industry needs.
Talent as a value creator
Fitzgibbon’s introduction set the backdrop for an opening breakfast panel on talent as an enabler of long-term value creation for mills.
Anne-Marie Hubert, Eastern Canada managing partner at Ernst & Young, moderated a discussion between Mélissa Picard, principal director of organizational development for Resolute Forest Products’ Canadian operations, and Kevin Edgson, president and CEO of EACOM Timber Corporation.
“We see more and more companies focused on purpose,” said Hubert. “Yes, we need to drive value for our shareholders, but we won’t do that if we don’t think of our customers, our talent and societal impact.”
The things that drive value are changing, said Hubert, with an increasing importance on intangible assets such as intellectual property and brand awareness. These metrics are not traditionally measured by financial reports, and can cause an “investment disconnect” whereby investors start making decisions based on their own conclusions – which can lead to a breakdown of trust if there isn’t a perceived return on investment.
In response, over the past 18 months Ernst & Young has pulled together more than 30 of the world’s leading companies and investors to develop the Embankment Project for Inclusive Capitalism, part of a framework for long-term value creation that will develop new metrics to measure intangibles such as talent.
Talent strategies for mills
At Resolute, Picard’s team is establishing metrics for intangibles using the Global Reporting Index to report on talent initiatives. Understanding that needs differ by region, the HR team has put together a workforce action plan containing attraction, recruitment and retention strategies that are specific to each of Resolute’s locations across Canada and the U.S.
For example, the company is partnering with educational institutions such as Confederation College in Thunder Bay, Ontario and a school in Lac Saint-Jean, Quebec to build job-specific training programs that move students directly into roles at Resolute’s local mills upon graduation.
Some of Resolute’s other strategies for talent management include an emerging talent program that identifies rising stars and connects them with the executive team for mentorship.
In 2019, the organization instituted a “respect and civility” training program that delves into harassment, risk management and diversity and inclusion. About 400 managers were trained in the program last year, and the company aims to train all of its employees by the end of 2020.
Listening to employee needs
Hubert then led a discussion with Picard and Edgson about how changes in the makeup of the workforce can impact a mill’s plan for long-term value creation.
Management must recognize that employees today are different than they were 40 years ago, noted Edgson. The sheer volume of information a person processes in a day has increased, and current social issues, such as environment and sustainability, have become increasingly urgent.
Employees also now desire flexibility in their work hours, while maintaining the kind of stability required during times of change.
“In our business, there are always downturns,” said Edgson. “But you cannot have sustainable employment in places where people want to work if you are shutting down on a regular basis.
“During the last downturn, every single one of our mills shut down. But in the last year when we saw major curtailments across the entire industry – across the entire country – our mills continued to run.”
He attributed this to EACOM’s belief that the company’s strength lies in numbers. This all-for-one approach – called “One EACOM” – encourages information sharing between each location. Edgson suggested to PaperWeek attendees that their mills should be open to visitors as a way to trade ideas and learn how to do their jobs better.
Edgson also said the industry has a challenge getting young people to recognize the opportunities that the forestry sector offers – that but once they do, the industry’s lack of diversity will naturally begin to change.
“The fact is that people are everything,” he said. “The value creation by any company, private or public, will come by the people doing their very best. Our job is to make sure we find them and we earn the right for them to want to stay.”
More PaperWeek Canada coverage will follow in an upcoming issue of Pulp & Paper Canada magazine.
For more about HR practices in the Canadian pulp and paper industry, read the results of our recent survey, where we asked mill management about their recruitment and retention strategies.