‘A great product made by great people in great communities’: AV Nackawic mill manager

As worldwide demand for its product grows, AV Group's need for a skilled workforce at its Nackawic and Atholville mills to produce the product also grows.

On Friday morning, Jan. 20, AV Group and NBCC officials met at the AV Nackawic mill to celebrate a partnership to deliver the needed workers skilled in trades and technologies.

AV Nackawic mill manager John Howell, AV Group's government relations and communications director Mike Legere and other mill management and staff members greeted NBCC CEO Mary Butler and other NBCC officials for a brief tour and reception to celebrate their partnership.

Before travelling through the mill for the ceremony, Howell offered a brief PowerPoint he explained he shares with students about the mill, its process and product and the skilled jobs it provides.

The mill manager explained that AV Nackawic and AV Cell in Atholville mills produce specialty pulp to create viscose staple fibre for the textile industry. He said the fibre is the only manufactured textile to rival the properties of cotton.

Howell told the River Valley Sun following the presentation that demand for the fibre continues to grow at six to eight per cent annually since AV Nackawic began production in 2007.

During his presentation, Howell explained that India-based Aditya Birla took over the Nackawic pulp mill following the closure of Ste. Anne Nackawic, which manufactured pulp for high-quality photographic paper. As digital photography grabbed a foothold, the market for photo paper plummeted.

AV Nackawic undertook a massive repurposing of the mill upon purchase, preparing to produce pulp for the growing viscose staple fibre market.

Howell said the Nackawic mill now employs more than 400, adding the AV Group New Brunswick's operations, which include the Atholville mill and head offices in Fredericton, depend heavily on NBCC graduates.

He said at least 200 employees in the Nackawic and Atholville mills received their training through NBCC.

Legere said AV Group's need for employees skilled in trades, technology and management skills would only grow over the next decade.

"By 2030," he said during a short speech, "Fifty per cent of our workforce will be eligible to retire."

Legere's comments echoed those of Ashley Irvine, President and Unit Head, AV Group NB, in a media release from NBCC.

"The need to replace this generation of workers is urgent. Demand for forest products, like the viscose fibre derived from AV Group pulp, is increasing globally due to consumer demand for renewably sourced textiles, and so is the demand for workers with the required skills to produce our world-class products."

As NBCC CEO Butler said, meeting the skilled labour needs of AV Group and countless other New Brunswick employers requires an innovative approach at the college level.

"We need to change and evolve," she said.

Butler said the college's successful $16-million Going Beyond campaign will help it reach more learners than ever before.

She told the River Valley Sun that the partnership with New Brunswick employers, including the AV Group, allows NBCC to adapt to changing needs quickly.

Butler said that more than 700 individuals and corporations have financially committed to the Going Beyond program, including a $100,000 commitment from AV Group.

She said AV Group, among the first to show its support, is investing in initiatives to support students financially, as well as technology and equipment to remove barriers to education, such as distance or financial challenges.

Their gift will also contribute to initiatives that will take training into communities and build awareness of NBCC's skills development opportunities among high school students.

"With an aging workforce, the lowest post-secondary attainment rate in Canada, and a high number of jobs at risk of technological disruption, New Brunswick is facing a critical shortage of skilled workers to fill the jobs of today and tomorrow," said Butler. "Together, with partners like AV Group, NBCC is transforming New Brunswick's workforce with skills training opportunities that meet the needs of learners and employers."

Howell said AV Group mills in New Brunswick provide direct employment and support wood-industry contractors and many other businesses throughout the province. He said the quality of the skilled employees helps deliver a high-quality product to the market.

"Great pulp is made by great people in great communities, and NBCC produces many of those great people critical to AV Group's success," he said. "We see our contribution to the Going Beyond campaign as an investment in our future workforce, an investment that will increase the reach and quality of skilled labour training and compliment our fold of more than 200 proud NBCC graduates currently working in all facets of our operations."

Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun