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Diversity in Action

International Paper works on diverse hiring and retention

Both workforce and workplace are undergoing change. Diverse talent in the pipeline and a culture of trust and openness are key components

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Young engineers learn the ropes at an International Paper mill location.

Young engineers learn the ropes at an International Paper mill location.

John R. Nelson is business HR manager at International Paper (IP), and handles staffing, hiring and workforce planning for mill manufacturing. "We want to attract engineers with backgrounds in ChE, ME, EE and pulp and paper," he notes. An analysis based on a five-year trend shows that about 57 percent of IP's new hires are experienced, the remainder college recruits. Nelson expects that the proportion will remain close to 50-50.

Nelson fears that the manufacturing industry in general is declining in terms of real job growth. This creates a very immediate problem in recruiting: it's becoming difficult for corporations to offer clear career paths when they set out to attract talent.

To combat the problem the company developed a five-year strategic plan in 2002. It included the REACH (Recruit, Engage, Align College Hires) initiative, designed to create a meaningful recruitment and development strategy for the next generation of technical talent. Nelson spearheads the program.

"We bring in a group of fifteen to thirty talented engineers each year," Nelson explains. "The goal is to make them feel they are part of a network and give them the chance to bond." The new hires work on a combination of classroom courses and onsite projects at various mill locations, traveling about half the time and meeting with project coordinators who serve as teachers and mentors. New engineers are also expected to learn the business side of the process.

Nelson feels that the most valuable component of the program is its peer bonding opportunities. "I can't overemphasize the importance of having a critical mass of young engineers coming together to form their network," he says.

More aggressive diversity-oriented hiring goals are also in place. For example, at least fifty percent of REACH hires are diverse.

Another key goal is employee retention. IP has historically seen a five-year loss of close to fifty percent of new hires.

Networking and bonding opportunities, in the REACH group and elsewhere, will combat the trend. "The senior executives are very excited about networking to help keep good people with the company," Nelson reports.

Karin Sarratt is IP's business HR manager for printing and communications paper. She serves on the chairman's diversity council, formed in 2001 and made up of hourly and salaried reps, the SVP for HR, SVPs for company businesses and the exec VP of admin. The CEO was the council's original executive sponsor, and continues to keep in close touch, Sarratt adds.

Today the council is focusing on two efforts: changing the workforce and changing the workplace. When it comes to the workforce, "We're interested in diverse talent in the pipeline and how it relates to succession planning: who's on our 'move list' for the coming year," Sarrat says. IP's senior leadership chain is now about 25 percent women, she notes.

Changing the workplace, Sarratt explains, involves developing a culture of trust and openness. "If employees have good relationships with their managers, it increases the likelihood that they're communicating effectively and they're talking about their careers on a very personal level."

IP is also concentrating on increasing flexibility in its work arrangements. "We consistently hear from the folks we're recruiting that it's important to them to have flexible schedules, more opportunities for job sharing, part-time work and telecommuting."

The company's community outreach includes employee involvement grants. Employees who contribute to community enhancement, working in a volunteer fire department or school program, for example, can request grant funds for their organizations.

IP seeks out events that offer volunteer opportunities for its folks. Both HQ and manufacturing facilities are active in their local communities, participating with the March of Dimes, the United Way, Habitat for Humanity and more.


International Paper

Headquarters: Stamford, CT
Employees: 68,700 worldwide
Revenues: $24.1 billion in 2005
Business: Global forest products, paper and packaging. Primary markets and manufacturing in the U.S., Europe and Latin America
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