Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 16

trendspotting | MANAGEMENT

The Graying of the Paper Industry
An industry veteran looks at the statistics about our industry's aging
workforce-as well as some strategies for managing this critical issue.
JOHN A. NEUN, P.E.

In 1979 the average age of TAPPI members was 43; today, it's 53.

The first time I ever darkened the door
of a paper mill was in 1979. I was a research
engineer working for a large clothing company
and I was sent to a local paper mill (now closed,
like so many in the Northeast US) to get a physical sense of those abstractions called "paper
machines." I remember the mill was using a
Vickery shoe and a bronze wire-and that was
the only time I ever saw either of those things
in operation.
At the time of that first paper mill visit,
my baby boomer generation comprised about
66 percent of the workforce, according to the
Pew Research Center. In 2015, that figure was
29 percent and shrinking fast as, like me, my
fellow baby boomers retired.
In 1979 the average age of TAPPI members
was 43. In 1990 it was 44. Now it's 53. (The overall average is almost identical to the US average).
While TAPPI membership may not precisely
represent the industry as a whole, I believe the
trends can't be that different. It's clear that the
industry got older as I did, a trend that picked
up speed after the early 1990s.
Actually, we may be finally seeing an
improvement in this trend-at least for TAPPI
members. While the average age of members
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MAY/JUNE 2017

was 53 in 2017, in 2007 the average age was 55.
In the last 10 years, the average age has dropped
by two years.
The transition of generations hasn't been the
only important change for the paper industry.
When I visited that first mill in 1979, there
were about 1,200 pulp and paper mills in the
US. Today, there are about 500. US capacity
for paper and paperboard in 1979 was about
61,000,000 metric tpy; by 1990 that number
had grown to about 77,000,000. Surprisingly, in
2016 it was still about 79,000,000, according to
"Pulp and Paper Capacities" from the UN Food
and Agricultural Organization. Pulp capacities
in those time frames went from 46,000,000
metric tpy in 1979 to 58,000,000 in 1990 and
54,000,000 in 2016.
In 1979, according to the US Department of
Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were
about 264,000 people working in the US pulp
and paper industry. By 1993, this number had
shrunk about 12 percent, to approximately
236,000. Then the decline accelerated. By 2015
there were 102,000 people in the US pulp and
paper industry, using Department of Labor
definitions. Over the last 25 years or so, even
though the number of people making paper

The industry's "graying" trend may be slowing;
since 2015, the average age of TAPPI members
has actually dropped by two years.

(according to the DoL) has shrunk by more than
50 percent, those people are producing about
the same total amount of paper and paperboard.
So, we've gotten older and more efficient.
As communication technologies have evolved
and our consumption and shopping habits have
changed, the mix of paper and paperboard
grades has changed. Printing and writing
grades are far less prolific than they were in
1979, and packaging grades are in ascendency.
While some people making them may disagree,
packaging grades are more straightforward to
produce than many communication grades
of paper.
If over the last generation more than half
of the mills in the US have closed, and new
technology and efficiency gains mean fewer
people are needed for the production facilities still in operation, attrition of the workforce has been inevitable. This attrition has
impacted all employees across all skills and
pay grades. Almost universally when attrition
occurs, seniority is the predominant selection
factor. When the workforce is reduced, younger
employees go first. Consequently, average age
increases. After a generation of such evolution, a
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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Paper360 - May/June 2017

Setpoint
Over the Wire
Leadership for a Changing Industry
An Ode to Small
The Graying of the Paper Industry
Suppliers Reach Out to Mill Leaders
Making a Difference: 2017 TAPPI/PIMA Awards
RISI’s Asian CEO of the Year
TAPPISAFE Offers Solid Benefits for Mills, Contractors
Reinventing Varkaus
Failure Isn’t Just an Option—It’s Unavoidable
Blower Technology Proves Its Worth
TAPPI Journal Summaries
Global Study: Most People Highly Value Paper and Print
The Changing World of OCC
TAPPI News
ASPI News
Index of Advertisers
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - intro
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - ebelly1
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - ebelly2
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - cover1
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - cover2
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 3
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 4
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 5
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - Setpoint
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 7
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - Over the Wire
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 9
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 10
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 11
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - An Ode to Small
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 13
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 14
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 15
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - The Graying of the Paper Industry
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 17
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - Suppliers Reach Out to Mill Leaders
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 19
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - Making a Difference: 2017 TAPPI/PIMA Awards
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 21
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 22
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 23
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 24
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 25
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 26
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 27
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - RISI’s Asian CEO of the Year
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 29
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 30
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 31
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - TAPPISAFE Offers Solid Benefits for Mills, Contractors
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 33
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - Reinventing Varkaus
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 35
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - Failure Isn’t Just an Option—It’s Unavoidable
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 37
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - Blower Technology Proves Its Worth
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 39
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - TAPPI Journal Summaries
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 41
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - Global Study: Most People Highly Value Paper and Print
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 43
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 44
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 45
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - The Changing World of OCC
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - 47
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - TAPPI News
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - ASPI News
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - Index of Advertisers
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - cover3
Paper360 - May/June 2017 - cover4
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