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HRD Innovations: A Case Study From the Finnish Paper Industry

Ville Nurmi

Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Finland

Paper Presented at the European Conference on Educational Research,
Lahti, Finland 22 - 25 September 1999


The purpose of the present study was to describe the various innovations applied in the largest HRD program ever conducted in the Finnish industry. The aim of the program was to educate workers and front-line managers to operate one of the world's most up-to-date fine paper mills. The study was descriptive; the innovations of the program are described and the innovative aspects are clarified. Even though there has been a couple of empirical studies applying different methodologies on the same HRD program, this paper emphasized on the description of innovations, and excludes empirical, formal study settings.

The paper begins by the conceptual definition of human resource development (HRD). The description of the target program follows the conceptualization. The innovations of the development program are described via the following categories: 1) context, 2) input, 3) process, and 4) product innovations. Finally, conclusions are drawn and suggestions for both research and the practice of vocational education and training are formulated.

The Definition of HRD

The mission of HRD is to provide individual development in order to improve the performance related to a current job; to provide career development in order to improve performance related to future jobs; and to provide organizational development (OD) related to both optimal utilization of human resources and improved performance, which together lead to the efficiency of the organization. HRD refers the area of congruence among the three components: individual, career, and organizational development. (Gilley & Eggland, 1989; figure 1).

The definition of Gilley and Eggland (1989) was applied in the present study. Individual development in this case involved training of certain practical skills and knowledge for employees. A function of OD was to search for innovative solutions for organization-wide issues, such as team building. Career development was not the prior aim of the program. However, the implemented need assessment related with the analysis of future qualification needs was evident link to career development. From a micro perspective, the greatest contribution in the HRD program was on individual development. Macro perspective’s key points were organizational development leading to the improvement of efficiency and productivity of the new production unit.

Figure 1. The definition of human resource development. (Gilley & Eggland, 1989, p.14).

A Brief Description of the Training Program

The present study was focused on a HRD program in the Finnish paper industry in 1995-1996. Metsä-Serla Corporation invested approximately USD 500 million into the world's biggest fine paper mill. At that time Metsä-Serla was the fifth biggest pulp and paper producer in Europe. It has production units all around the European continent, and its products are sold in Asia, South America, and North America, besides Europe.

Within the technical paper mill construction project there was a HRD program. The new technology required modern and up-to-date vocational qualifications from the personnel. Over 150 workers were hired to the new fine paper mill through careful recruitment procedures. The program lasted 8 months including classroom courses, practical training periods, excursions, simulations, and some organized leisure time activities, too. One third of the trainees were without previous work experience in the paper industry. This made training one of the key factors in terms of the successful start-up of the new paper mill. (Nurmi, 1998.)

The HRD program was one of the biggest ever conducted in the Finnish private sector with its USD 10 million budget. In addition to its size, there were other innovative aspects, too. These innovations are discussed and described in the results section of the present paper.

The HRD program was conducted simultaneously with the technical paper mill construction project. The final goal of both projects was the successful start-up of the new paper mill in August 1996 (Figure 2). There were also other objectives set for HRD which were related to the start-up goal. In addition to development of the workers the program included management training and training of the maintenance personnel. This study focused on the operators, i.e. workers of the new paper production line (Nurmi, 1998).

Figure 2. The chronological description of Metsä-Serla’s paper mill investment including the training program


Context Innovations

The paper mill, the future work environment of the trainees, was completely new. There were not existing hierarchies or cultural barriers. Thus, the ground for the development activities was thought to be fertile and flexible. Although, there were two older production units within the same geographical location from which many beliefs and habits have possibly transferred to the personnel of the new factory. As a matter of course, there were many positive cultural nuances, besides the factors resisting the change and supporting the existence of the old systems that may have transferred from the older units to the new paper mill.

The recruitment process of the personnel was innovative for this field of industry. Several newspaper advertisements impacted approximately 5000 applicants to send their resumes to Metsä-Serla. It is not usual in the heavy industry that a high recruitment criterion in terms of education is required. In this program, the education requirement was either a matriculation or vocational examination, but the latter was not necessary from the paper production. The area of the vocational education was not a core recruitment criterion, because the trainees received also the formal vocational education in the HRD program. Two interview rounds, aptitude and personality tests were applied in the recruitment process. The applied recruitment approach may seem a normal procedure, but in the paper industry it has not been the most common case. However, more attention during the recent years has been paid towards the HR and HRD function in the forest industry, as well. Two interesting details were included in the recruitment: There was an intention to hire young persons, possibly novices in the industry. And the other intention was to hire female workers more than factories normally do. The personnel was quite young and inexperienced compared to the traditional population. There were also more women than normally, even though the majority of the operators were still men.

The third context innovation was the strong support by the top management of the organization. It was not just empty phrases for the external image purposes. The management took part in the discussions during the instructional planning process, showed interest toward implementation of the program, and some managers kept lectures in the training courses, too.

Input Innovations

One of the most meaningful innovations in this area was the foundation of the HRD expert team. Two engineers and two adult educators were members of this team. Engineers have been planning and implementing industrial training programs traditionally. In the present case more emphasis was given on the instructional design, soft skills training, and evaluation. Therefore, there was a need to have educators, in addition to the technical experts.

Modern paper mill projects include always some training or HRD activities. Their length varies from few days to a couple of weeks. The HRD program of Metsä-Serla Corporation lasted 8 months as a full-day type of activity. The operators and other workers of the new fine paper mill were hired to attend the vocational education. During the program, they did not have any production responsibility, even though the program included practical training, too.

Process Innovations

The process innovations of the program could be divided in two sections: the innovations related to the instructional design, i.e. the planning process of the target program, and the innovations related to the applied evaluation procedures.

The traditional need analysis was not implemented in order to formulate the content of HRD program, because the majority of the trainees begun their permanent employment, when the HRD activities started. Thus, they were not available for the need analysis earlier. Several expert teams, including operators, maintenance personnel, supervisors, and production engineers, were founded from the older paper production units to determine the learning objectives for each process area. This approach could be named the content based need analysis, referring the instructional design based on the experts' view about the crucial competence areas for operators and other personnel in the different parts of the production process. Also the trainers, who were mainly machinery designers and start-up experts from different machinery deliverers, were involved in the planning of the educational program. They worked in the close cooperation with the HRD team.

The evaluation of the program was double-edged. On the one hand, its purpose was to revise the on-going activities to better support the vocational development of the operators, i.e. formative evaluation. On the other hand, the evaluation focused on defining the final merit of the program, i.e. summative evaluation. There were no concrete possibilities to conduct ROI or CBA calculations, because the production unit was completely new, and there were no empirical experiences about the actual production capacity of this type of a paper mill. Of course, some comparisons were made with the start-up curves of the competitors and other mills of Metsä-Serla. (Nurmi, 1999).

The evaluation was implemented by the mixed-method approach that included several different phases from the traditional student assessments to the simulations of the automation systems, and from the interviews of different stakeholders to the learning journals kept by the trainees. (Nurmi, 1999).

Product Innovations

The goals of the HRD program, set by the organization's top management and the leaders of the paper mill construction project, were challenging. They were related to the production quantity and quality, team building and the high-level of the conceptual mastery of the production process (Leppänen, 1993), i.e. the knowledge of the workers concerning the entire production line. It is not innovative that the goals were accomplished, because many programs have been able to reach their goals. There were at least two reasons making the goal accomplishment innovative in the present case. The production-related goals were demanding; the new paper mill was the world's biggest fine paper production unit at the time of its construction. And its major products were innovative, the latest inventions of the company's R&D department in the cooperation with the machinery deliverers. Two latter goals (team building and the conceptual mastery) were innovative, because they contained behavioral dimensions. And it is not a tradition in the paper industry to set this kind of goals. More frequently the goals, as well as investments are allocated on the machinery and iron rather than human resources, their well being, or qualifications. The team building in the process industry, especially in the paper production, has not been very successful in Finland. Cultural barriers, fragmented job descriptions, and the lack of vocational qualifications have been some of the factors resisting the progress. In the HRD program of Metsä-Serla, also the team building was implemented and the teams have been functioning since the mill start-up.

The second product innovation was the high number of the operators pursuing the vocational examination from the paper production. Traditionally, the workers of the paper mills do not have the formal vocational qualifications of their occupation. Over 80% of the trainees in the present case were able to finish their degree which is controlled and admitted by the Finnish National Board of Education (Finnish National Board of Education, 1995).

Conclusions and Suggestions

There are some occupations, such as the one of paper machine operator's which cannot be studied in the classrooms of the vocational institutes. The machines and production lines are so large and expensive, and also the technique changes so rapidly that the educational institutes do not have chances to up-to-date their teachers' vocational qualifications and their instructional technology to meet the challenges of the industry. The biggest forest corporations have founded their own vocational institutes, where they are able to use their company's production units as practical training locations, and at the same time they can select their future work force, and the students can evaluate, whether they are willing to work for the certain company at the beginning of their careers. The other option to solve the puzzle between the insufficient resources of the public education and the qualification needs of the modern technology is to develop the cooperation between the public vocational institutes and the industrial companies. The former can offer the fundamental knowledge for the students, and the latter offers the practical training periods. However, the role of the teacher in planning and facilitating the practical periods, is also crucial. The present case was one example, how the enterprise itself can arrange educational activities to secure its personnel's vocational capabilities.

The tendency to pay more attention to the recruitment of the personnel is not only a positive progression. Because the employers may be greed rather than rational, i.e. they are more likely to hire the best applicants instead the best fitting for the particular position. This causes motivational and organizational troubles in the future, if the work environments are not adjustable to fulfill the learning and development needs of the highly competent personnel.

It is a good direction in this industry field that more resources are invested for the HR and HRD programs. Although, the monetary resources do not make a successful program, if there are not sufficient expertise involved. In the present case, it was not an easy-going process to build up a close cooperation between the technical and educational professionals. Finally, it was fertile and educative experience, in addition that the program implementation was a success, at least for certain extent. The HRD team was formulated only for this particular development case. Some activities have taken place since the program, but the externally organized HRD function has a tendency to be less need-oriented and broad-focused than are the internal departments. On the other hand, if there is a lack of expertise in the internal HRD or HR department, they are just hiring external consultants, and their functions are based on the existing services rather than internal needs of the personnel.

Finally, the vocational education offered in the present case gave the trainees a formal certification about their skills and knowledge. Their examination is valid in the other Finnish corporations, but in many other European countries, as well. Young and educated workers are more likely to switch their employers several times during their career than their parents and middle-aged peers in the industry.


Finnish National Board of Education (1995). Koulutuksen tuloksellisuuden arviointimalli [The Model for evaluation of educational productivity]. Helsinki: Yliopistopaino.

Gilley, J.W. & Eggland S.A. (1989). Principles of Human Resource Development. Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley.

Leppänen, A. (1993). Työn käsitteellisen hallinnan ja hyvinvoinnin yhteydet ja kehittäminen paperinvalmistuksessa työskentelevillä [The Connections between the conceptual mastery of work and well-being among paper workers]. Published dissertation, Work and People, 7 (6). (In Finnish, English summary).

Nurmi, V. (1999). The mixed-method evaluation in HRD - A description of methods applied in the industrial development program. In Kuchinke, P. K. (ed.) Conference Proceedings of Academy of Human Resource Development, 554-561.

Nurmi, V. (1998). Koulutuksen tavoitteet ja niiden saavuttaminen organisaatiomuutoksessa - tapaus paperiteollisuudesta. [ The achievement of training goals in organizational change - a case from paper industry] Work and People, 12 (4), 314-323. (In Finnish with English summary.)

This document was added to the Education-line database 24 September 1999