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Conversations on training & development.

This feature includes interviews with key training users and providers on how training and development in the paper industry is changing. The interviews were conducted by Shirley Barton, knowledge & development manager for TAPPI, Norcross, Georgia, USA.


Robert A. "Pete" Black Jr., is executive vice-president-general manager, Alabama River Pulp Co. Inc., Perdue Hill, Alabama, USA.

BARTON: What are some of the major workforce challenges you face in your company today?

BLACK: We are in the market pulp sector. As in all of the pulp and paper industry, the competition is absolutely fierce, particularly from Brazil and Chile, which have some of the lowest cost mills in the world. It is obvious that our only competitive advantage is our people, so we are working to have a technologically advanced workforce.


Our organization understands the importance of having technically competent employees who are continually improving their skills and who actively participate in day-to-day decisions. At the same time, within our mills, we are redesigning our jobs. We have three active work redesign teams in our pulp machines, powerhouse, and our maintenance groups. We are involving our hourly employees in redesigning the work. They are looking for more effective and efficient ways to work. We have developed some principles to protect them so that no one will lose employment because of working more efficiently.

How do we continue to improve our competitive positioning and how are we going to be around for the long haul? We are going to do it with our people! A couple of years ago, we raised our hiring standard in the hourly ranks to prefer 2-year pulp and paper technician degrees and moved away from hiring people with just high school diplomas, mainly because the market has become so competitive. We are also offering opportunities for our long-time employees to advance and update their skills. We began to partner with Alabama Southern Community College (ASCC) in Thomasville [Alabama] in their nationally recognized pulp and paper program. Alabama Southern has just become the national center for pulp and paper technology training in the United States and received a US$ 5 million grant from the National Science and Technology Foundation. We are very pleased with the 2-year pulp and paper graduates coming into our organization.

BARTON: How does the (npt)2 initiative, based out of ASCC, fit into your future training needs? (Editor's Note (npt)2 is an alliance of community college/university partnerships designed to help train workers for the pulp and paper industry.)

BLACK: We realized 3-4 years ago that we are pulp makers, not educators. We went to Alabama Southern because they are in the education business, through their 2-year pulp and paper program or through their leadership training session given at our mill to our front-line salaried workers. For example, we just had a group of 15-20 mechanics graduate from a 26-week program (held every Friday for 26 weeks) on machinist and millwright work. This group said it was the best training they ever had in their careers.


Keith D. Romig, Jr., Ph.D., Director of National & International Affairs, PACE International Union, Nashville, Tennessee, USA. (Note: PACE has merged with the USW.)

BARTON: What are some of the major challenges your pulp, paper, and converting members face today?

ROMIG: The major challenges include the massive job loss in the industry since 1997, in part from the downsizing of many mills and converters, and from many that are being closed. For PACE, that has meant:

* Figuring out how to help affected members relocate and get the trade adjustments and assistance they are entitled to, and

* Doing what we can to prevent closures and promote employee ownership, where possible.


In addition, PACE has been working to reinstitute national bargaining in the paper industry, so we can maintain wage and benefits standards in the coming difficult years.

The paper industry is at serious risk of being dismantled. We're hoping we can persuade the industry to institute systematic investment policies that will modernize the mills to bring them up to international standards; we think we've lost a lot of jobs because of the lack of investment in the industry.

BARTON: In what ways do you think improving production worker knowledge and skills will affect the bottom line?

ROMIG: Our members in the paper industry are very qualified and skilled. A huge problem in the industry, though, is that those skills are not documented because the training systems, except for the maintenance trades, have traditionally been informal. It has been a learn-on-the-job process.


For example, a machine tender in a large mill might have been on the job for 15 years. He or she might know everything about how to run the machine and know how to make sure the paper stays high quality, but the person has no documentation of that ability. If the mill shut down and he or she lost their job, they would have trouble getting another job in the industry. This would be more problematic at levels below the machine tender level. If they had a certificate to document that they have a high level of skill, then they could present the certificate to a potential new employer. PACE is a leading member of the Manufacturing Skills Standards Council (MSSC), which is working on certificates of this kind for production workers, not only in the paper and converting industry, but in other productions industries in the United States.

If the experienced workers are trained and constantly getting rehired, there is going to be a greater experience level in the mill and a much smoother operation of the mill or converter. And the result of a smoother operation of any industrial process is a better bottom line for the owner.


Sam Lewis, President, Delta Training Partners, Wilmington, North Carolina, USA.

BARTON: What are some of the major challenges your customers face in training and development?

LEWIS: They have to do a lot more with less. Most of the mills that I have visited the last few years have been hit with downsizing related to corporations buying out other corporations or just to cost cutting efficiencies being driven at the mill level. There are usually fewer people to do the work. We've found that in mills that were started up a generation ago, the first generation or in some cases the second generation of paper-makers are planning to retire, with a significant number due to retire in the next 3 -5 years. As a result, you have a tremendous amount of skill that will be leaving with the workforce. Mills must be able to quickly get skill levels back up after people retire. A third thing is cost cutting, which makes it very difficult to find the time and resources to do the necessary training. This is a very difficult situation.

BARTON: What are some significant trends you see as a provider of training services to the industry?

LEWIS: One is the migration away from only paper-based manuals and traditional classrooms toward a blend of traditional training and electronic-based tools. For example, you don't have just informal on the job training (OJT)--you have very structured OJT assignments blended with computer-based training on key process concepts and then some study of system wide issues. You may do that electronically instead of in a classroom. There is still a lot of interest in and a lot of value in "face-to-face" classroom training because the human element is still very important. Computer based training has not quite reached the point where it can replace dialogue. Classroom training should be an integral part of acquiring sophisticated job skills.

BARTON: How are training challenges different today than they were 5 years ago in your business?

LEWIS: In the last 10 years, budget has been an issue in every mill I have been in. There is not much capital spending being done. The mills that are going to be successful in the next 5-10 years are those that are already putting training in place and who will provide an avenue for their operators to gain job skills as they go. The progressive people in HR and training are saying, "I'm going to use the tools I have right now. Training is a cost of doing business and whether I like it or not, it can help me maintain and sustain a competitive edge."


Rick Wollenberg, CEO, Longview Fibre Co., Longview, Washington, USA.

BARTON: What are some of the major workforce challenges you face in your company today?

WOLLENBERG: One is the age of our workforce. We will have substantial retirements over the next few years. With that we have the challenge of knowledge transfer and the training that goes along with it. Another significant challenge is automation of processes in the workplace and developing computer literacy throughout the workforce and using the automation of processes to lower our costs and drive efficiencies over a period of time.

BARTON: How does the Lower Columbia College (npt)2 initiative fit into your future training needs?

WOLLENBERG: This program is just getting under way and we are really excited about it. The first two-year class will graduate in 2008. It will help bring people into the workplace who have knowledge of the industry and the skills we need. It will evolve over time to be useful for training people we already employ. Through this program, Lower Columbia College offers a 2-year pulp & paper program and the graduates get an AA degree. The college will have some distributed control system simulation programs and also a lot of industry related training courses. The "seed" money is coming from the U.S. Department of Energy to get this started. The program will attract high school students with the prospect of good paying jobs in the industry. There may need to be some scholarship support from companies in the industry. The program is in its initial stages.



Jim Froehlich, Manager of Human Relations and Organizational Development for Blue Ridge Paper Products, Canton, North Carolina, USA.

BARTON: What are some of the major workforce challenges you face in your organization today?

FROEHLICH: Declining markets in the paper industry are a challenge for employee training and development. Another major issue is the aging workforce. Recruiting people into our business is becoming harder and harder. As our workforce ages and moves into retirement age, we need a way to educate and develop our hourly employees to be ready to move into those positions.


Canton is the only major business in Haywood County, North Carolina. We employ 60% of the county's manufacturing workforce. In the past, we never had trouble finding workers. Today, many consider other options and some are leaving the area. Some want to go into other fields and industries. The entry-level workers we are seeing are less educated and require more training.

For economic reasons, we eliminated 61 hourly positions and 15 salary workers. We offered an early retirement incentive to hourly workers in addition to a salaried retirement package to enhance their retirement benefit. Today, 29 individuals out of our 1015-person workforce are over 62 years. In 5 years we will have 261 people that are 62 or older, (average retirement age at the mill is 62.8)

In addition, we will have 589 people who are 55 and older. That's 58% of our workforce. We have to be in a position to replace this workforce and be able to transition the skills and experience to the new people.

BARTON: What would make it easier to rise above the challenges you just touched on?

FROEHLICH: We have to become more creative in how we market the business and the industry. We need to make them aware that we have computers, process control, and high tech equipment. We want people who want to be papermakers! We have high paying jobs with great benefits, and we want people who are passionate about making paper.


BARTON: What methods do you use for training and development, and who carries it out?

FROEHLICH: We use a computer-based training model for our OSHA required safety training. People can go on our Intranet and take the required safety training, which includes a built-in test. Beyond that, we utilize learning guides, on the job training, and some in-house company classroom training where we work with Haywood Community College to bring in organizations like Metso Paper or TAPPI to do some of our process training. But for the most part our internal group is responsible to provide training and development for our employees.




* Training and development challenges and opportunities faced by mills, paper companies, union members, and training providers.

* How training is affected by several key trends in the pulp and paper industry.


* The following interviews originally appeared as part of a series exploring critical issues in training and development for the pulp and paper industry. To access the full articles, go to, click on the "Publications" link and then the "Electronic Newsletters" link. Choose the "back issues" link in the Ahead of the Curve section.

* The interview series was sponsored by the TAPPI Recognized Education Provider (REP) program, which is designed to raise the quality of continuing education activities. The REP program and web site ( makes it easier for consumers to locate high quality providers of training and continuing education.



Shirley Barton is Knowledge and Development Manager for TAPPI. Contact Shirley at
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Author:Barton, Shirley
Publication:Solutions - for People, Processes and Paper
Date:May 1, 2005
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