Chemistry boot camp offers students an insight into life at UPM

High school students from Jakobstads Gymnasium in Finland recently participated in a bootcamp organised by UPM. Here’s how they used analytical thinking and creative discussions to address real-world challenges.

Monday is a good day to solve problems. One particular Monday in October, twenty-eight high school students from Jakobstads Gymnasium in Finland’s north-west coast, took on questions regarding sustainability and the circular economy. Topics that UPM wrestles with every day, and one of the reasons why they organised a bootcamp for these students.

“Our company is, for example, the world’s largest user of recovered fibre for printing paper and we are constantly developing materials that can replace fossil-based materials. For that purpose, we need a lot of different competencies and skills,” says Esa Laurinsilta, Director of Strategic Partnerships at UPM.

“During the day we want to give the students an idea of how it is to work in our company. In the afternoon they will solve problems that are part of our everyday life at UPM,” adds Simon Fagerudd, General Manager of UPM Pietarsaari.

UPM has a long history in Pietarsaari - known as Jakobstad in Swedish - a small town on the west coast of Finland. During the bootcamp, the students are divided into six groups and given challenges to solve. Each group contains a diverse set of participants, better reflecting the challenges the students will have to face in the real world.

“In my team, we have people from Finland, Germany, Uruguay, Nepal, China and Hong Kong. Our common language is English and, in order to make this boot camp as authentic as possible, we will work in English today,” explains Mats Backman, Director of Technical Customer Service and R&D at UPM Pulp.


UPM's Mats Backman gives his support for the challenging group work

Selling your idea

The mission is to solve one of two problems: UPM is planning to invest in a new plywood mill, but should it be located in Finland or Estonia?  The other theme concerns plastic, and the task is to propose a couple of applications where fossil-based materials could be replaced with renewable materials - preferably from wood fibre.

“Selling your idea is always important; remember that when you present your solutions in front of the jury,” Laurinsilta reminds the teenagers.

The topics are engaging, and it is clear that the information given out during the morning lecture has been absorbed by the students.

“What’s the tax rate in Estonia?”

“When will the tunnel between Helsinki and Tallinn open and will there be fees for transporting goods?”

“If they can make complete milk cartons from wood fibre, why not use the same renewable materials for shampoo bottles?”

There are many questions that need to be answered.

“These students are in the middle of a chemistry course that focuses on materials and technology, so today’s programme is perfect. It’s also important for them to realise that their hometown offers interesting places to work,” says chemistry teacher Tom Finell, while his students are busy finding facts to back up their arguments.


Team blue presents their results of a group work 

No right or wrong answers

After 180 minutes of intense workshopping, the teams are finally ready to present their solutions. Team Blue is convinced that the plywood mill should be placed in Finland.

“It’s the safe alternative and will benefit the Finnish economy.” This is the bottom line in the team’s proposition.

Team Green has come to a different conclusion.

“We realise there are risks, but we also see a lot of opportunities to expand plywood production in Estonia and be closer to the market in central Europe.”

“The case with the plywood mill was actually an authentic one. UPM chose Estonia, but as I said earlier there are no right or wrong answers and both teams have taken the same questions into consideration as UPM,” explains Laurinsilta.

The boot camp with its interactive components and actual challenges has given the students new insights and the spark to study even harder.

“Absolutely! I have learnt new things today and UPM would definitely be an attractive place to work in the future,” says Theo Elenius from Team Green.

His teammate Sofia Pascutti agrees.

“Yes, I would like to study biochemistry in Pisa, Italy or Finland after I graduate from high school next year. In that field, UPM seems to have a lot to offer.”


Text: Johan Svenlin 


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