What is Our Industry’s Most Critical Workforce Need?

The global pulp and paper industry has been growing for literally thousands of years. Statistics from Cepi state that, in 2018, the global industry produced 419.7 metric tons of paper and board, plus 187.2 million metric tons of pulp, to make the products our planet needs for health and hygiene, sustenance, business, leisure, education—every aspect of human life.

While our industry’s technology is impressive, those machines can’t run without a powerful and competent workforce. According to AF&PA, the forestry, wood products, pulp, and paper industries employ almost a million people in the US alone. To continue to grow and innovate—and to maintain the flow of essential, renewable, recyclable products—we need to make sure the industry’s workforce is the best it can be.

At TAPPI’s recent Student Summit (tappistudentsummit.org) we asked a few of the industry professionals involved in the Summit’s annual Career Fair two critical questions. Here are their responses.

Paper360°: What is the most critical workforce need for the
pulp and paper industry?

“Finding qualified people with engineering and trades skills.”
—Al Martin, director of organizational development, Twin Rivers Paper Company

“Pulp and paper operations are very complex, with a continuously varying raw material (chips and pulping liquors) being converted into a tightly specified final product though multiple unit operations. Continuous improvement requires that we are able to deal with this complexity and extract actionable solutions that result in measurable reduction in cost.

“What we are lacking as an industry right now are people with the skills to perform four important tasks: 1. Analyze the process to understand what is important to change or control; 2. Identify where more information is required to improve understanding of the process; 3. Recognize when they need to call on the help of others; 4. Implement sustainable solutions that they or others identify to improve the process.”
—Andrew Jones, senior engineering fellow, International Paper

“We need more general engineering students who can understand paper and mills. Outside of paper engineering students, not many students in ChemE or other engineering disciplines seem to have any knowledge of this industry.”
—Sara Skochinsky, campus recruiter at Ecolab

“As I see it, the most critical workforce need for our industry deals with employees’ ability to understand and work with data analytics or ‘big data’—to mine it, to use it to solve problems at mills and prevent future problems.”
—Terri R. Creech, college recruiting and talent development manager at International Paper

Paper360°: What do you think would be the best way to meet
that need?

“Promoting the paper industry to capture interest early in students’ education. Help people know about the interesting, meaningful work performed, the growing diversity, or the incredible income available. Partnering with local colleges will probably bring awareness to the pulp and paper field.”
—Al Martin

“As an industry we need to encourage career paths that reward people that are seeking technical mastery. Too much emphasis is placed on career paths that emphasize people management skills at the expense of technical mastery, either based on compensation or recognition. We also need to teach more holistic problem-solving methodologies that allow people to go all the way from problem/opportunity identification to sustainable solution implementation. The skill of recognizing that you need to draw on the expertise of others is also something that is underrated. Independence is perhaps overrated as a skill at the expense of admitting that you do not know and seeking the help of others.

“I think TAPPI can continue to help with this by providing learning opportunities on both technical topics, and also problem solving methodologies and sustainable project implementation. Perhaps TAPPI could even provide some certification if a set of learning goals are accomplished?”
—Andrew Jones

“I would love to see TAPPI create more relationships with additional schools, open to more students, where there are more than just paper engineering majors/related majors. Diversification is imperative to growth. We see all types of engineers succeed on our end, but many don’t even know how, for instance, a general chemical engineering graduate can fit into so many aspects of a paper mill.”
—Sara Skochinsky

“The best way to meet this need is twofold. First, hire college engineering graduates who have been trained with these skills from all majors relevant to our industry (i.e., chemical engineering, paper science, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, environmental engineering) and, to a lesser extent, hire some graduates whose majors focus on data science. Secondly, train current employees to better deal with and apply learnings from the data they have access to for their facilities.”
—Terri Creech


What’s the most critical workforce need at your plant, mill, or office?  Industry-wide conversations about opportunities for growth can help identify and solve the challenges we face. As a leading association for pulp and paper industry professionals, TAPPI can serve as a point of contact for sharing knowledge, ideas, and inspiration.

Paper360° readers are invited to join the “Building a Better Workforce” conversation through the TAPPI Connect platform. TAPPI Connect is an online resource for members, non-members, and volunteers to collaborate, share knowledge, problem-solve and expand their personal and professional networks. This centralized platform enhances membership and volunteer recruitment, allows for real-time communication, and holds valuable content for committee collaboration.

In the TAPPI Connect Open Forum section online at tappi.org, search for the “Building Our Workforce” thread and add your thoughts, view others’ perspectives, and help create the path forward. TAPPI believes we are #BetterTogether. We look forward to having you join the conversation.