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Paper industry facing tough challenges: mills invest in their people.

Good news has been a rare commodity for Northern Ontario's pulp and paper-making industry over the past 12 months.

The effects of the recession, an over-supply of product, new competition, tougher environmental legislation and the recycling movement have been mill shutdowns, employee layoffs and the closing of inefficient operations.

However, the news has not been all bad. Several northern pulp and paper producers have been investing millions of dollars on new technology and products in order to compete more effectively, and in a more environmentally friendly manner.

In addition, at least three of the region's mills are responding to the industry's present crisis by investing in a more valuable commodity - their people.

"You can invest as much as you want in modern equipment and new technology, but the reality is that the machines are still run by people," says Phil Hearn, the director of communications for E.B. Eddy Forest Products Ltd. in Espanola. "If the people are well-trained and you make sure they know how to operate the machines, then naturally you have a more efficient operation, and the worker is happier and more productive."

The managers of E.B. Eddy's Nairn Centre sawmill have been taking supervisory skills training courses since 1988 through the continuing education department at Cambrian College in Sudbury.

Everyone from the general manager to the sawmill's leadhands have taken part in the 180-hour program designed by Cambrian specifically for E.B. Eddy.

The program is intended to improve the managers' communication, human relations and labor-relations skills. Graduates qualify for an Ontario management development certificate in supervisory studies.

The program at the sawmill is presently on hold due to a labor dispute, but it has been introduced at the Espanola pulp and paper mill.

Hearn explains that the program makes managers better at communicating instructions or problems to workers. This leads to a more efficient operation, better working conditions and better product quality, he says.

"We (the industry) are in the process of change, and the changes involve how we can make products more efficiently and improve quality for the global market."

James River-Marathon has also responded to this challenge by providing training for the managers and employees of its Marathon paper mill.

Peter Roose, the company's manager of human resources, says the training incorporates several different strategies and goals.

"For instance, the supervisors are trained in team-building and leadership," he says.

However, Roose is reluctant to call the training a "program."

"The problem with a program is that it starts and it stops. What we're doing is an ongoing process. It's really a new way of life," he explains.

This new way of life is focused on customer satisfaction.

"There's a whole culture built around satisfying customers, and slowly but surely we're coming on stream," Roose says. "Total customer satisfaction will be necessary for any industry, not just forestry, to survive in the '90s."

Like the E.B. Eddy program, James River-Marathon's training also strives to improve communication within the mill. Roose says that department discussions have been initiated by the company in an effort to have all employees understand new initiatives being introduced by the company.

James-River Marathon president Robert Gregor says training allows the company "to react to situations before they become problems."

Like Hearn, Gregor also believes that human resources are more important than new technology when it comes to competing in a global marketplace.

"Unless you have a well-trained and fully empowered employee working for the company, you will fall by the wayside," he says.

As part of the empowering process, James River-Marathon is encouraging mill employees to meet with clients and discuss ways of improving the company's products.

"We not only send supervisors, but also floor operators so that they can find out how the product is received by the clients," Roose explains. "We're finding that they are coming back to the mill fully energized, and we are seeing a significant change in the workforce."

Empowerment is also the principle behind a human resources program in operation at Abitibi-Price Inc.'s Provincial Papers mill in Thunder Bay.

A group of 13 volunteers has been undergoing training sessions in a small trailer on the mill property since the end of last year. Under the program, the volunteers - who represent each of the mill's departments - are trained to improve communication within and between their departments, to create training manuals and sessions for new procedures and equipment and to develop an orientation process for the entire facility.

Abitibi-Price is counting on the program to improve productivity and reduce its production costs. The mill lost $30 million during the first nine months of last year.

What makes the program unique, according to employee relations director Barry Ferguson, is that all future employee training will be designed by employees. The mill contracted Maggie Milne and Associates of Thunder Bay to train the 13 volunteer trainers.

"It (the program) has given everyone a positive attitude about the future, and the employees are more receptive to the initiatives because it's coming from people they work with," Ferguson adds.


Brian Billard, an employee of the mill's paper rewinding department and one of the 13 volunteers, says the program is similar to ones instituted by Japanese and German companies. He believes it was long overdue.

"I noticed that there was a lot of sporadic training. Training was done through word of mouth, and people were expected to pick things up quickly," he recalls. "The mill was great for having information stay within one department and not go between departments."

Ferguson admits that the mill's previous training programs were not satisfactory.

"The problem was that the training the person received was only as good as the trainer," he explains. "We knew we had to enhance the training program.

"Now we take the best operations people we have and people that want to do this, we provide them with the necessary supplies and let them do the training."

"It's a very competitive marketplace, and the only way we can compete is if the people who work for us get the best training possible," Ferguson concludes.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Apr 1, 1992
Previous Article:Mill proposes recycling venture to bypass new effluent controls.
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