Paper scientists, engineers have a bright future Schools report heavy demand for graduates.

March 09, 1992|By Chicago Tribune HHC B

Despite a bleak employment outlook for college graduates in 1992, seniors in the Department of Paper Science and Engineering at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, are getting job offers, and some already have been hired at good salaries.

Among them are Donna Anderson, who will work for Kimberly-Clark Corp., Atlanta; Ed Rountree, for Hercules Inc., Agawam, Mass.; Kurt Schulze, for Jefferson Smurfit Corp., Tlalnepantla, Mexico; and Julie Cooper, for Longview Fibre, Longview, Wash.

The seniors, who will earn bachelor's degrees, are paper engineers, also known as process engineers.

Paper engineers support production crews in paper manufacturing plants to solve problems and improve productivity. They do research to develop new products, work in sales and service and help develop technology to meet environmental regulations.

They are trained in mathematics and the basic sciences, particularly chemistry, raw materials and environmental technology.

Though no overall employment figures are available for paper engineers, the National Science Foundation reports that in 1990 about 6,700 of these scientists worked in research and development.

Other graduates may have trouble finding jobs, but all 30 seniors in Miami's paper science and engineering department are expected to get jobs. The department's placement rate has been 100 percent, and even this year, there are more jobs than graduates.

This happy state of affairs is not unique to Miami. Demand for paper engineers is reported by other schools offering such programs, among them the University of Maine, North Carolina State University, the State University of New York at Syracuse, Western Michigan University, the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, the University of Washington at Seattle and the University of Minnesota at St. Paul.

Starting salaries average $36,500 annually and rise rapidly. After 10 years' experience, 27 percent of the engineers earn $50,000 to $60,000, according to the Atlanta-based Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry.

There are jobs for new graduates because papermaking is a healthy, $112 billion industry -- though this was supposed to be a "paperless" society, said Benjamin Slatin, senior economist for the American Paper Industry in New York.

"Production in 1991 was higher than in 1990, despite the recession," Mr. Slatin said. "Growth in exports is expected to be 20 percent higher this year."

Although the jobs are there, at least for new graduates, most people have never heard of paper engineers. But the paper industry provides generous scholarships and cooperative education learning slots to "grow" qualified, entry-level employees.

Bill Scott, a chemist and head of Miami's department, earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in paper science "simply because I was offered a scholarship to Miami." His doctorate in physical chemistry is from the Institute of Paper Science and Technology in Atlanta. Mr. Scott worked in research for Champion International Corp., a major paper manufacturer.

"The job market is good this year," said Mr. Scott, who teaches papermaking processes and properties. "As is true of all engineers, those who are most successful are strong in math and science and have strong interpersonal and communication skills."

Mr. Scott said that in addition to paper companies, computer process control companies and chemical companies also seek paper engineers.

James R. Weber Jr., technical director of Simpson Paper Co.'s Shasta Mill in Anderson, Calif., heads a staff of 40, 10 of them paper engineers.

"Most people interested in engineering don't know about the pulp and paper industry. It's not glamorous like petroleum," said Mr. Weber, whose company makes fine-coated publication paper. "Some of the work sites are remote -- in some nasty locations."

Mr. Weber has an opening for a process engineer that pays about $35,000 a year. "The people who work for me are firefighters. Problems come up every day and we solve them," he said.

Jefferson Smurfit, based in Clayton, Mo., is a multinational packaging and papermaking company and one of the largest recyclers of newsprint.

"Paper processing is a strong field because the raw material base we have here in the United States gives us a long-term presence in the world market," said Evan M. Wise, manager of mill research at the company's plant in Carol Stream, Ill.

Mr. Wise, a process engineer with a master of business administration degree, previously worked in a paper mill in Jacksonville, Fla., that made grocery bags and liners. He has five paper engineers reporting to him.

"When we hire," Mr. Wise said, "we look for people with production experience and the ability to interface with the academic world. It's a continuous learning process."

The engineer said that being at the forefront of change is challenging. "There's so much diversity in what I'm working on," Mr. Wise said. "It could be a recycling project in rural Venezuela one week and the next week a pulping project in one of our large mills in Florida."

There's a great deal of satisfaction in being a paper engineer, Mr. Wise said. "The work is important not only to the company, but to the industry and the economy as well," he said.

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