Wood Business

The great integration at Resolute Forest Products

April 6, 2023  By Guillaume Roy; Translated by Peter Diekmeyer

Quebec’s Saint-Thomas-Didyme community welcomed foreign workers to solve job market gaps. Photos: Annex Business Media.

Resolute Forest Products is leveraging the help of local communities to facilitate the integration of more than 130 foreign workers into its Quebec operations.

In June, residents of Saint-Thomas-Didyme, a small community in Quebec’s Saguenay-Lac Saint-Jean region, got a big surprise when Moroccan workers arrived to work at Resolute Forest Products’ nearby sawmill.

Soon after, 35-year-old Aimad Salmi, Soufyane Jdair, 29, Rachid Derrouich, 34, Mohamed Dahmani, 29, Yassine Zarroudi, 28, and Nassim Driuche, 37, greeted two other Moroccan arrivals. Each of these eager new workers has a story to tell.

Some came from cities, others from countrysides, but all bring unique experiences and skill sets to their new jobs. Salmi, who has worked in security, olive cultivation, and industrial painting is now a general labourer at Resolute Forest Products’ planing mill. Driuche, worked as an electrician, dabbled in photography, and electromechanics prior to starting a newfound position in a sawmill.


Yet while stories vary, enthusiasm levels are high. “I am here to work,” says Salmi proudly. “It’s hard to find a job in Morocco. I want my girlfriend to join me as soon as possible.”

Jdair started dreaming about Canada when he was just a child. “I want to develop my career here,” he says. Zarroudi cites twin goals: to learn about Quebec culture while advancing his career. Driuche wants to discover another world, and to experience new activities.

Derrouich was attracted by potential job stability. Dahmani is particularly ambitious. “I want to develop skills,” he says. “My goal is to eventually stay and give back to the community that opened its arms to me.”

Janic Gaudreault, a human resources manager at Resolute Forest Products says two of the most important criteria that the company seeks in potential recruits are a desire to emigrate, as well as a longing to build an international career. These, Gaudreault says, are good signs that an applicant will build roots in Canada and stay for the long term. 

“Their number one plan is generally to stay,” says Gaudreault. “Plan B, going back home, will only occur if things don’t work as planned.”

Resolute Forest Products has implemented a “mosaic program,” which brings together local organizations, stakeholders, and co-workers in its strategy to ease integration into the new environment.

“The mosaic program places the community at the centre of the welcoming process,” explains Gaudreault. “We gave presentations to local actors about Morocco so they can better understand the applicants before they arrived. The municipality and the union also got involved. We trained all our site managers and employees. It’s an integrated process where everyone has a role to play.”

A successful start
Workers settled in a house fitted out for them, in the heart of the village almost immediately upon arrival. During a recent site visit, Canadian Forest Industries met with Gaudreault, along with Alexandra Lavoie, human resources supervisor, and Steeve Tremblay, general superintendent of the Saint-Thomas plant.

Nassim Driuche, 37, worked as an electrician, dabbled in photography, and electromechanics before being a sawmiller.

The mosaic initiative also drew upon local organizations, such as Portes Ouvertes sur le lac, to help the workers. That process included managing paperwork and facilitating integration into the community, during the initial weeks.

Resolute Forest Products also provided managers with detailed insights to prepare them to coach the new talent. That process included pairing each Moroccan worker with a mentor and providing training in a variety of occupational health and safety standards.

“We learn every day,” says Salmi. “Resolute Forest Products has provided great support.” Dahmani agrees, noting that employees can use the FM radios the company has provided them to “call for help” whenever they need it.

According to Sylvie Coulombe, the mayor of Saint-Thomas-Didyme, a small town of just 679 people, it took the newcomers just a few weeks to start building roots. Many of the new immigrants even volunteered to help at the local Lac-à-Jim open water swimming marathon.

“We formed a welcoming committee,” Coulombe says. “We want to encourage them to stay and to participate in the revitalization of the community.” The newly arrived workers quickly got the chance to go kayaking and fishing, to head to the beach and make friends with local residents, to go dancing at the arena and to taste local dishes, such as tourtière and poutine. 

Their next goal: to popularize Moroccan culture in Northern Quebec by sharing tea and typical Moroccan dishes.

The workers were given bicycles and use them mostly to get around town and to and from work. However when doing their shopping they use the Maria Express, a taxibus service, or they hitch rides with willing residents.

The Moroccan group even launched a help page on Facebook, to offer their services to the local population, in part as a way to enable them to meet some of the locals. “The reception was extraordinary,” notes Zarroudi. 

“Everyone was friendly and highly enthusiastic.” Sports, which has always created strong international bonds, is playing that role in Quebec too. “We plan to organize a soccer tournament in Saint-Thomas to create links,” adds Dahmani.

These efforts are part of a long-term strategy. “We really want these employees to integrate into their community and settle in Quebec for the long term,” notes Gaudreault. “We have a common interest in making it work.”

Paperwork and logistics
It costs almost $10,000 to host a temporary foreign worker for their initial 24 or 36 month contract. “These work permits can be renewed,” explains Gaudreault. “After 24 months in the country, workers can apply for permanent residence, a process that takes another 24 months.”

Mohamed Dahmani, 29, wants to “stay and give back to the community that opened its arms to me.”

Resolute Forest Products has worked with a variety of specialized firms to facilitate the international recruitment, retention, and longer-term community integration process.

These include AIPEO Canada which handles international labour recruitment in Morocco, through a turnkey services that ranges from sourcing and hiring to reception and integration. That process includes handling the paperwork in conjunction with partners from Centre RIRE 2000 and MS Avocats, a law firm.

Centre RIRE is an international solidarity organization that brings to the table more than a quarter century of experience working in French-speaking Africa. 

“We are well established because we partner in the community, explains Benoit Songa,” its general manager. 

“We know the families, so if a young man applies, we can call his parents to find out more about him.”

Centre RIRE’s international recruitment mandate with Resolute Forest Products and other firms enables it to finance other solidarity actions. One example: teaching French to Moroccan women to enable them to work in the tourist industry. The initiative also finances projects to support women, young people, and entrepreneurial projects in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

According to Songa, Resolute Forest Products demonstrates exemplary efforts to welcome new workers. 

“They have a long-term global vision,” he says. “They mobilized a range of stakeholders to pitch in to ensure a successful reception and integration.”

Maximizing diversity
Resolute Forest Products expects to hire 133 foreign workers this year. Of this number, 43 workers were deployed to Lac-Saint-Jean, and other to Girardville (10), Saint-Thomas-Didyme (8), La Doré (20) and Saint-Prime (5). Other foreign workers went to Senneterre, Maniwaki, Comtois, La Tuque and Baie-Comeau.

Steeve Tremblay, general superintendent of the Saint-Thomas plant.

In July, the company carried out a recruitment mission in Morocco to fill an additional 74 mechanics, electro-mechanics and operator positions for its sawmills and pulp and paper factories. In all, about 100 more workers are expected next year.

Diversity, through the inclusion of more women and visible minorities from a variety of countries, is a key priority. 

“By broadening our efforts we increase our chances of building success stories,” says Gaudreault, recalling that Morocco closed its borders for a few months during the pandemic which slowed the recruitment process. 

“Each new employee brings additional added value.”

Resolute Forest Products has worked with in a range of regions to broaden its potential talent pool. These include RM Recruitment, a firm specializing in recruiting from the Philippines and launched nearly five years ago by Régis Michaud, a human resources specialist. 

“We have recruited nearly 1,000 workers since 2018 and nearly 1,500 others are in the process of coming to work here,” says Michaud. “They are thrilled to have the chance to improve their quality of life.”

RM Recruitment’s 45 employees offer turnkey recruitment, legal support, reception, and integration services. Most Filipinos already speak English, but to broaden their skill sets the firm has hired 10 full-time employees to help teach the newcomers French as well. “Resolute Forest Products recruits get 200 hours of French training before they even get here,” notes Michaud. “Newcomers were also offered training in Quebec culture and occupational health and safety.”

RM Recrutement has facilitated the arrival of some 50 workers for Resolute Forest Products and close to 150 workers for Chantiers Chibougamau so far. “We are now at almost 45 families settled with Chantiers Chibougamau,” says Michaud. “We are building a small community.”

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