Sustainability Drives Career Decisions for Younger Generations
Sustainability is making a difference in what people buy, but it’s also affecting how people select their careers. Talia Massey, a campus recruiter at Domtar, sees this trend increasing each year, particularly as the forest products industry’s workforce continues to age.
“I think each year we’re losing more Baby Boomers than we can imagine,” Massey says. In fact, nearly 47 percent of Domtar employees are at or near retirement age.
“We intern and hire as many replacement workers as we can, but we’re losing 40 years plus of experience and replacing that with someone with a few years of experience,” Massey says.
Domtar isn’t the only company having this issue. A report from Pew Research in the third quarter of 2020 found that about 28.6 million Baby Boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 — reported that they were out of the labor force due to retirement. This is 3.2 million more Boomers than the same quarter of 2019.
As Baby Boomers continue to retire at record rates, companies all around the United States must find new ways to attract younger generations, such as Millennials or Gen Z, who may be less open to and more critical of careers in manufacturing.
“As far as challenges go, for the industry, it’s all about ‘going paperless’ for consumers, but for us specifically, it’s students’ rising concerns about sustainability,” says Massey, who meets with students regularly at college career fairs and other recruiting events.
According to a Fast Company survey, nearly 70 percent of Millennials agreed that if a company had a strong sustainability plan, it would affect their decision to stay with that company long term. And 40 percent said that they would take a pay cut if it meant they would be helping improve sustainability.
Most Millennials agree that they want to go into something that improves the environment and continues to help the world. This is important information for companies because Millennials, currently ages 25-40, are the largest working generation.
Smart employers are embracing the potential of Gen Z or Millennials to make significant contributions to the success of their organizations, whether as short-term interns or as permanent employees. But they have to appeal to a desire for meaningful work that makes a difference on many levels.
“One of the biggest values of interning with Domtar is that this is not a “getting coffee, pushing paper” type of internship. You’re actually getting real hands-on experience. Every day, you’re in the process,” Massey says. “Interns also learn that we’re not wasteful; we find ways to reuse our end products, reduce waste, make our own electricity … we’re sustainable in so many ways other industries aren’t.”
Stephanie Stoughton is an environmental engineer at Domtar’s Johnsonburg Mill who also happens to be a Millennial. She made it her mission to find a career that would enable her to help protect the environment. That mission led her to Domtar two years ago.
“It was important to me to work for a company with a good reputation, to work for a company that gives back to their community and that really puts sustainable efforts first,” she says.
Today, Stoughton monitors the mill’s wastewater quality and ensures that any solid waste is disposed of properly — tasks that build on her prior experience studying aquatic ecology and working for Wyoming’s Game and Fish Department and the Elk County, Penn., Conservation District.
“Sustainability was very important when choosing my career path, and I think it all stems from how I grew up,” she says. “I learned at a very young age that if you don’t take care of the landscape and the earth, it’s not going to be able to take care of you. Here at Domtar, because we sustainably harvest from forests, because we release clean wastewater, because we have to be good environmental stewards and take care of the earth — we can keep making paper.”