Final Cut: Engaging the workforce of the future
By Kevin Edgson
Sept. 28, 2018 - I was born, raised and trained in Canada’s forest industry. Over the years, I have witnessed extraordinary advancements in our sector. From forest management practices to technology and product diversification, we have adapted to a changing competitive landscape and continued to improve our reputation as a global leader in sustainability and quality manufacturing of forest products.
By Kevin Edgson
Today however, our industry is plagued with labour shortages — a sign that we may have underestimated the impacts of a growing urbanized society.
At EACOM Timber Corporation, we have experienced significant growth in recent years, most of which was fuelled by engaging our workforce towards a new vision and optimizing performance across our operations. Through a focus on organizational development, continuous improvement and strategic investments, the company has increased annual production from 518 million board feet in 2013 to a target of 960 million board feet in 2018.
How did we get here? Since 2012, we have invested over $75 million in our Ontario and Quebec facilities. Investments such as these are crucial for achieving competitiveness gains and provide motivation for our employees. Yet, while critical to our business, they have supported a broader, more important, organizational effort to achieve improvements. For EACOM, this effort has meant engaging and empowering our employees by putting in place a new performance management system, as well as a highly visible reporting system to promote a culture of collaborative learning and facilitating some constructive benchmarking through which progress can be measured.
There are always opportunities to achieve efficiency without major capital expenditures, and these efforts require some creative thinking, a lot of teamwork and a work environment that promotes both. EACOM employees everywhere are encouraged to constantly challenge the status quo and find better ways of achieving our objectives. We believe that employees are more productive and satisfied if they are given opportunities to take calculated risks to achieve process improvements, and if they are supported in their professional development as they learn to work with members of their own teams, other departments and across operations.
A pillar of our approach is transparency and information sharing. As a private company, our financial results are not public. Internally, however, EACOM employees understand the financial performance of the company, of each operation and how we benchmark against the competition. Our senior management team makes a point to travel to the mills each quarter to talk about company results, news and operations. This transparency and access to senior leadership align with our values and promotes a culture of openness and collaboration as we work to achieve our collective goal.
These efforts must continue as the workforce changes. By 2020, millennials — born between 1980-2000 — will make up 50 per cent of the global workforce. By 2025, they will make up 75 per cent. This new generation of workers expects to be in a technologically advanced environment where they are constantly stimulated and have the freedom to propose innovative ideas. This generation does well working in multidisciplinary teams taking on various tasks. Management must demonstrate an openness to creative thinking and a new way of doing things, especially if it is to achieve results.
Canadian forest products companies have always offered competitive wages and benefits packages, as well as an opportunity for employees to live, work and play in the forest. That will not be enough to attract this new generation of workers mostly located in urban areas. We will need to challenge ourselves to offer a flexible, dynamic and supportive work environment. Accordingly, we will work to achieve greater representation from Aboriginal Canadians, women and youth across all our operations.
Our industry has progressed tremendously in the last decades, both in terms of practices and products, but the transformation is far from over. The workforce of the future represents an opportunity to pursue this evolution and form the foundation for future growth.
Kevin Edgson is president and CEO of EACOM Timber Corporation, the second largest lumber producer in Eastern Canada.