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Catalyst paper looks long term when hiring

Catalyst President and CEO Kevin Clarke, left, presses a point with Tseshaht First Nation CEO Cindy Stern at a meeting with Valley business leaders on Tuesday. - WAWMEESH G. HAMILTON/Alberni Valley News
Catalyst President and CEO Kevin Clarke, left, presses a point with Tseshaht First Nation CEO Cindy Stern at a meeting with Valley business leaders on Tuesday.
— image credit: WAWMEESH G. HAMILTON/Alberni Valley News

Catalyst Paper Corp. is hiring 50 more people this year and employees can expect to rise through the ranks faster than their predecessors.

Catalyst president and chief executive officer Kevin Clarke made the announcement during a state-of-the union address to Port Alberni business leaders at the AV Multiplex on Tuesday.

The average age of local mill employees is 52 and attrition is expected to increase over the next decade, Clarke said. Fifty more employees are required this year, and 15 others were just hired last year, he added.

The ranks have to be replenished at such a rate that new employees can expect to rise through the ranks more quickly than those they replaced, Clarke said.

Previously, it used to take approximately 20 years for an employee to become a machine operator. Now, they can become one in six to seven years, Clarke said.

Catalyst officials have had cursory discussions with North Island College and Vancouver Island University staffs about what they can do to help fill the growing need for employees, Clarke said.

Potential candidates shouldn’t view working for Catalyst for a summer or just one year to make some money, he added.

“We’re recruiting, hiring and training employees to meet the company’s needs for the future.”

A career day at NIC and an open house at Catalyst’s Alberni mill are in the planning stages.

Clarke outlined other developments, including how the company has chiseled its $840 million debt down, and plan to lower it to $220 million this year, he said.

The outlook for the paper industry is good. Catalyst continues to penetrate the market in China. And Latin America presents a potential large paper market because tablets and iPads aren’t used as commonly as they are in North America, Clarke said.

Despite its efforts to pay down debt, the company is still hobbled by spiralling BC Hydro costs.

The company paid more than $127 million in hydro costs last year, more than $40 million of which was in taxes, he added.

Clarke illustrated his point, comparing industrial and residential hydro payments.

From industry, one-third of hydro payments goes to the provincial government in fees and taxes. For residential customers, one quarter of their payments goes towards the same. And industry pays PST on hydro while residential customers don’t.

The company has met with provincial government officials, as well as with Vancouver-Kensington MLA Adrian Dix, the leader of the NDP, who are expected to take power after this May’s election. “This is lack of strategy doesn’t just affect Catalyst, it affects everyone,” Clarke said. “It’s a detriment to economic development and to our ability to be competitive,” Clarke said.

Catalyst will soon be concentrating more attention on the sale of some of its local property, Clarke said.

And locally, Catalyst’s mill will be shut down for one week soon. More than 150 workers will be taking down the mill and giving it a tune-up before re-assembling it, he said.

reporter@albernivalleynews.com

Twitter.com/AlberniNews

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