Growing up in Ristiina by Lake Saimaa, Saila Tiihonen became familiar with the UPM Pellos plywood mills at a young age. A long-standing and important employer in the region, UPM Pellos began operations as a chipboard mill in 1964. Since then, it has gone on to become the largest manufacturer of softwood plywood in Europe.
Confident in the employment prospects and job security offered by the forestry industry, Saila first sought work at one of the mills during her gap year after upper secondary school in 1997. It took several phone calls to the then production manager to secure a job interview, but Saila’s determination was rewarded and she was soon offered three-shift work in production.
While at the mill, Saila became interested in the plywood industry.
“I was impressed by the people who were so skilled and dedicated to this work. It occurred to me that I wanted to dedicate myself and my skills to a job where I could achieve great results alongside my equally dedicated co-workers,” Saila explains.
A variety of tasks available
After her gap year at the mill, Saila studied at the Kymenlaakso University of Applied Sciences and qualified as a production engineer. Even during her studies, Saila had various summer jobs in quality control, logistics and on the veneer production line at the UPM Pellos mills. After graduation, Saila settled down in logistics in 2004.
In 2011, dispatch clerk Saila became a production engineer, taking responsibility for the mill’s production plans and overall capacity management. She was appointed to her current position as the production manager at the UPM Pellos 1 mill last March.
According to Saila, the UPM Pellos mills offer a fantastic opportunity to learn something new every day. The mills produce 500,000 cubic metres of softwood plywood annually, 90% of which is exported to Central Europe, Great Britain and the Nordic countries, mainly for use in the building and construction sector.
“Our operations are wide-ranging and involve many different types of technology and processes. Production is only one area. If you even remotely feel like you have already perfected one job, go ahead and push yourself into an area you are not familiar with,” Saila says.
She finds that the career path available at UPM Plywood is well defined. The employer also encourages people to develop their skills. Saila recently attended the Green Belt training course at Aalto University to acquaint herself with systematic and analytical problem-solving using data.
“You will get the training you want and, in the long run, the position you want too. Furthermore, our working culture is encouraging and inclusive. Everybody is heard and there is no need to worry about stating your opinion and discussing matters,” she says.
Equal opportunities for everyone
Saila lives in Ristiina with her entrepreneur husband and three children and is particularly satisfied at the moment. The duties of a production manager provide her with new challenges and the joy of learning. In addition to her plywood expertise acquired throughout the years, she will now obtain personnel management skills, which are essential at the UPM Pellos mills where over 600 people are employed.
According to Saila, the culture of dedication—for example, in a case of a machine breakdown, experts from various teams work together to fix the problem—is as strong today as it ever was. She is also glad that new employees have equal opportunities to develop themselves and train to become plywood industry professionals.
“Bright-eyed and sincere professionals, and those wanting to become so, are always welcome at UPM Plywood. For the most part, people themselves are responsible for writing the script of their life and career. If you are a skilled writer, here you have the paper for that script,” Saila concludes.
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Text: Janne Suokas
Pictures: Mikko Kankainen