The Swedish pulp and paper industry’s mission and future attracts young people

Four of pulp producer Södra's enthusiastic young employees were speaking at SPCI & Friends. Photo: Pax Engström

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In Finland the major pulp and paper companies are always ranked high when university students are asked about their preferred employers.

In corresponding investigations among Swedish university students our industry has been well down on these lists. However, our industry is now gaining interest from young people wanting to be a part of the new Swedish pulp and paper industry.

More than forty years ago I finalised my studies in chemistry at KTH in Stockholm, focusing on pulp and paper technology. My first job in the paper industry was as laboratory manager at MoDo's fine paper mill in Husum in northern Sweden. At that time the industry's "raison d'être" was to increase production as consumption always seemed to increase, to be more efficient and to earn money.

Many mills were often showing social responsibility to the neighbouring village or town, long before the term social responsibility became part of company philosophy. Words like green products, environmental care, sustainability, renewable raw material and contribution to a better world were on the other hand still pretty much unused. However, the winds have changed and these terms as well as similar ones are now parts in what I would call the pulp and paper industry's ideology and mission for a better world.

SPCI, the Swedish Association for Pulp and Paper Engineers, organises among other activities SPCI & Friends at the fun fair "Gröna Lund" in Stockholm every third year. SPCI & Friends is open to people in the pulp and paper industry as well as suppliers and students interested in our industry.

Three members of SPCI's "Young competence" group presenting activities run to increase young peoples' interest for our industry. Photo: Pax Engström
Why at a fun fair? Because it gives a very relaxed atmosphere in an outdoor surrounding and offers extremely good opportunities to meet "everyone in the industry" in a very efficient way. This year around 3,000 people met, listened to a lot of very interesting discussions and presentations, utilised different sponsored fun fair activities, watched models in modern textile dresses based on cellulose or paper, listened to Miriam Bryant's show, and also mingled and discussed with industry colleagues.

This year's SPCI & Friends took place at the end of May. One thing that struck me, and inspired me to write this piece, was that top ranked people from Swedish pulp and paper companies passionately spoke about our important mission and role for future generations. The basic message, although expressed slightly different by different speakers, was very clear; "Our industry has a mission to fulfil and a unique opportunity to make an important contribution to a more sustainable society!"

Our industry has in the past been accused for green washing, but that is long gone. Company jargon just for the sake of it has no room anymore and it doesn't impress the young generation. I had never before heard different speakers from different companies in the industry present recent research and new products with an ideological passion! This is not to say that efficiency, profitable operations and product quality is less important. On the contrary, but it is combined with a long-term ideology and an understanding that we can and will play a key role in making a sustainable bioeconomy come true.

The "SPCI & Friends" event attracted the next generation's interest for the Pulp and paper industry. Photo: SPCI
Another encouraging thing is that more young people are regarding an employment in the pulp and paper industry as an interesting option. One sign is e.g. that Södra, the Swedish market pulp producer, recently was acknowledged as the most attractive employer in Sweden by Randstad Employer Brand Research in a study involving more than 5,000 people. Two years ago Södra was ranked number 48.

Young people entering the industry today do it with a different perspective and with different attitudes than I had when I was employed by MoDo in 1976. Like me, many of them want to have interesting jobs with opportunities to develop their skills. But in addition to that, they are environmentally conscious and want to contribute to sustainability. In short, young employees want to be proud of what they do and of their employer.

This is where a sound and attractive pulp and paper industry together with an inspiring ideology comes into the picture and becomes part of business reality. It gives promises and inspiration to people, already employed or people wanting to be employed, to participate in improving sustainability and at the same time have an interesting job with a decent salary.

In my job I talk to many young people entering the pulp and paper industry. One thing that strikes me is that they are environmentally conscious and really committed to contributing to a more sustainable society, being it as researchers, production people, working with sales and marketing or in other parts of our industry. They see this industry's opportunities and the advantages offered by the fact that it is based on renewable forest raw material. This, coupled with solid investments and optimism, is bringing more talented young people to the Swedish pulp and paper industry and giving hope for the future.