The pulp industry is looking for inspiring leaders with good communication skills
When Kalle-Valtteri Ukonaho graduated from Helsinki University of Technology in 2013, vacancies in his trade in Finland were unusually scarce. Applying for a job became a current issue when he had finished his master’s thesis and the last remaining language studies.
Ukonaho’s working experience at summer jobs and the company he had done his thesis for guaranteed successful job interviews, and one of them landed him a job as an operating engineer at UPM Pietarsaari pulp mill. Ukonaho soon found himself at home in the small coastal town of Pietarsaari, Finland.
In his job as operating engineer Ukonaho is responsible for the smooth operation of the mill and ensuring that the production meets the set targets. He works closely together with the department manager and 45 other members of the production staff on a day-to-day basis. The pulp mill employs around 300 people and the mill integrate and its subcontractors around 1000. Every single day at the mill is different from the next as Ukonaho’s job comprises mainly of finding the best solution in every situation in a production environment that is always changing.
“I take care of the production flow together with other production and maintenance personnel. I also monitor the quality of production on a larger scale. In the long run my goal is to support the mill operators in such a way that it gives them as much knowledge and security as possible in making good decisions even in demanding circumstances. This approach has already proven beneficial to the reliability of production,” describes Ukonaho.
In addition to quick problem solving the job is about leading people. Ukonaho encourages and supports the employees in reaching production targets. This demands social skills, an open mind and the ability to learn quickly and communicate clearly.
Ukonaho also often finds himself working together with researchers and different subcontractors.
“In my role it is crucial to be able to get along with all sorts of people. We all have our good and bad sides. As a leader I see myself as one of the team. My task is to get all of the people to work together in achieving our goals. This means that I work just as hard as the others. It is the most natural way to lead for me personally, perhaps because of my background in team sports”, says Ukonaho.
A course in leadership and participating in a mentoring programme have supported Ukonaho in his development.
Safety at work is also one of Ukonaho’s responsibilities.
“Safety is a topical issue at UPM and much has been done to develop it further. Safety always comes first, even when dealing with difficult situations in production. It cannot be forgotten under pressure or stress.”
Flexibility and innovating for effectiveness
Ukonaho does not admit to often feeling stressed at work but malfunctions in production are not always the most pleasant experiences either.
“Machinery failures and disturbances in production can certainly bring some pressure to the day and sometimes major decisions have to be made quickly. This is however a part of the job description and one shouldn’t stress too much about it,” Ukonaho says.
The pulp industry has been going through some difficult times in Finland in the past years. Recent news of investments promise a brighter future for the industry after a period of uncertainty and transformation. Ukonaho’s trust in the pulp business has remained strong throughout the challenging times.
“The recession led to a loss of jobs in the whole forest industry. Many of my friends changed their course of study because of this. The forest industry has however been the cornerstone of Finnish exports for over 150 years and I do not think it is going to disappear anywhere fast. New innovations related to pulp do not yet affect my daily work but we too put a great deal of effort in innovating new ways of working and making the production more efficient, “ describes Ukonaho.
Ukonaho’s days do not always follow office hours but luckily both employer and employee can adapt well to different situations.
“A position like mine offers an excellent outlook to the whole pulp industry. One can learn something new every day. As an employer UPM is flexible and forward-thinking. Employees are taken care of as individuals, the atmosphere is supportive and employees can influence their own job description. As long as you are not afraid of hard work you are sure to enjoy working at UPM,” Ukonaho says.