For several years, Georgia-Pacific has been working with the country’s top safety schools to bring a steady stream of the best and brightest safety professionals to work at the company. But before then, according to Bill Hilton, North American consumer products senior director of Health and Safety, there were two significant talent challenges.
“We’d see people coming right out of school with the technical capabilities in safety but they struggled to apply it to our operations. On the other hand, we also hired safety professionals with several years of experience, but culturally they weren’t a fit with Georgia-Pacific. We want to give safety professionals a career, not a job.”
Georgia-Pacific launched an entry level safety program in 2007 called Georgia-Pacific’s Health and Safety ELP Program, a rigorous program focused on safety skill-building and operations immersion lasting 18 to 36 months. It also simultaneously worked more closely with universities with reputable safety curriculums across the country, such as Central Washington University (CWU) in Ellensburg, Wash.
By working with schools before students graduate, Georgia-Pacific can make recommendations, based on our manufacturing experience, that may help shape curriculums so students can meet the high level of skill needed specifically for the company’s safety jobs. This also gives students exposure to the pulp and paper industry, an area they may not have considered.
To demonstrate its commitment to developing safety professionals, Georgia-Pacific recently donated $65,000 to CWU’s Health and Safety program to help build new labs with state-of-the-art technology. The labs will help students learn practical skills such as building proper scaffolding, operating a crane, using fire extinguishers, and monitoring fall-protection equipment, among other applications.
Hilton adds, “We can teach theory in the classroom, but we also need to teach students the practical application aspects.” Georgia-Pacific has hired many students from CWU for its West Coast facilities.
Joe Kelley, a Georgia-Pacific safety engineer in Palatka, Fla., has a personal perspective as a graduate of CWU. Kelley was a former intern at Georgia-Pacific’s Wauna, Ore., paper mill, and then hired on after graduation at its mill in Halsey, Ore. After four years with Georgia-Pacific, he has gained experience working in three facilities.
“The contribution to CWU gives so much value. The students are getting wider exposure to industries like pulp and paper, and access to better tools, and CWU is benefiting because the curriculum is stronger and their program is more marketable,” says Kelley. “And, Georgia-Pacific has the benefit of bringing on the best safety professionals possible. Giving students so much more exposure early on like I was given is invaluable.”
This support underscores Georgia-Pacific’s larger philosophy on safety, according to Dusty Ferrell, vice president of Georgia-Pacific Health and Safety. “To create maximum value through safety excellence, we need leaders that have the ability to marry safety excellence to operations excellence. The Health and Safety ELP program is a tool to support the skill-building necessary to accomplish this.”