Petri Hirvonen (left) and Petri Marin took samples at the paper mill of Stora Enso in Anjala, Kouvola, in June.Outlook for the forest industry in Finland seems bright for the first time in a while, estimate two workers at the paper mill of Stora Enso in Anjala, Kouvola.

“It feels a bit like we can heave a sigh of relief. After a couple of tough years, things are looking bright,” says Petri Marin, 45. Marin is a process engineer with qualifications in electrical automation technology, while his 37-year-old colleague, Petri Hirvonen, is an electrician turned process engineer.

Their complicated job titles summarise the development of the entire industry.

Today, every employee of a paper mill is involved in practically every aspect of the manufacturing process, and nearly all of their responsibilities have been bundled under a single job title: process engineer.

Manufacturing jobs are not about to disappear from Finland, contrary to what many may believe. Paper workers – or process engineers – are only one example of that, for new jobs are sprouting in the forest industry and other manufacturing industries primarily due to the ageing of the current workforce.

“New workforce is needed to replace those moving into retirement. This is an aspect that has been partly misunderstood,” says Pekka Tiainen, a ministerial counsellor at the Ministry of Employment and the Economy.

The forest industry employed an estimated 60,000 people in Finland ten years ago and continues to employ over 40,000 people. Why? Because there is still demand for paper and cardboard.

Graphs representing the number of people employed in timber harvesting, forestry and mining activities all point slightly upward rather than downward. New employees have been hired in each of the sectors.

More indications of an increase in manufacturing jobs can be found at ports.

The shipbuilding industry seemed all but doomed in the early 2000s, with several shipyards contemplating closing their gates for good. The next crisis swept over the industry between 2012 and 2013. While shipyards have traditionally built ships practically from start to finish, their decision to shift towards assembly has restored their competitiveness.

Meyer Turku received a multi-billion euro order for two cruise ships from the largest cruise operator in the world in June and replenished its order books further by picking up another cruise ship order last week. The orders are projected to guarantee jobs at the shipyard until the end of the decade.

“Each of the sectors is also inventing something new. As the changes can be slow, people are prone to get frustrated and start thinking that this is going nowhere. It'd be a mistake to presume that because you're on the decline, you'll be on the decline also in the future,” points out Tiainen.

The paper industry remains under pressure to shut down paper machines due to dwindling demand. UPM shut down one of its magazine paper machines in Kaukaa and another in Jämsänkoski in March.

It nevertheless seems that the worst is behind the forest industry.

The Natural Resources Institute Finland estimates in its latest review that outlook for the pulp and paper industry in 2015 is reasonably favourable: the exports of newsprint paper are expected to drop by 4—5 per cent, whereas those of pulp and cardboard are to pick up by 1—2 per cent.

The textile and clothing industry similarly appears to have pulled through the worst of the challenges. The number of people employed in the industry plunged in the 1990s but has since stabilised at approximately 12,000. The industry is relatively small but also very profitable, at least judging by the past couple of years.

The fact that the paper industry is no longer looking for paper workers but process engineers can be construed as an example of changes in the nature of working life.

Arja Ala-Laurinaho, a team leader at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, believes technological advances and global economic development have made change a permanent feature of all industrial sectors, especially in the 2000s.

A survey published by the Institute of Occupational Health in 2010 found that employees in the paper industry considered many of the changes positive: an increase in autonomy, new responsibilities and safety at the workplace were among the aspects appreciated by the respondents.

“Employees shouldn't think about things they have no control over. It's useful to develop your way of thinking deliberately. If you start with the doom and gloom, that's when it'll get tough,” warns Marin.

Aapo Mentula, Sami Simola – HS
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Johannes Wiehn