Ukrainians find new life at Canadian sawmill

This is the right thing to do on many fronts, says Resolute.

Mon 13 Mar 23


Employees at Resolute Forest Products sawmill in Sapawe, northwest Ontario, have travelled thousands of kilometres from Europe to make a new home for themselves in Canada according to media reports.

Resolute has hired 31 Ukrainian men and women who moved to Canada because of Russia’s war against their country, and the company will take on several more later this month.

A a ten-minute video has been produced showcasing Resolute’s innovative recruitment initiatives. Footage supplied by @TheTraptors.

At the plant, which currently has a workforce of just over 100, the new recruits are filling a variety of roles, including in production clean-up and support, quality control, and even in a supervisory capacity.

It’s been a huge transition for people such as Alex Bakal, who’s never worked in manufacturing before.

“I really like this job … I have experience in management, and here I also have supervisory duties,” Alex said.

“But it’s all new for me. After four months, I’m still learning. I always pick up something from the very experienced people who work here.”

Resolute has hired 31 Ukrainian men and women who moved to Canada because of Russia’s war against their country, and the company will take on several more later this month.

Terry Ouellet, general manager of RFP’s Ontario sawmills, said it’s a mutually beneficial relationship, as the company’s greatest need for staff at its operations in the northwest is at the Sapawe mill.

The newcomers, he says, have an excellent work ethic.

“Getting the Ukrainian folk has been fantastic. There was – an is – a shortage of people willing to make a career out of manufacturing and sawmilling work, and they’ve really allowed us to fill the vacancies. Also, we’re working now on increasing our capacity at that site, adding an additional shift.”

That new shift will generate another 15 jobs at the mill.

But Ouellet hastened to add that the decision to hire the newcomers to Canada “is the right thing to do on many fronts, aside from our own [corporate] reason”.

He said Resolute’s human resources department “didn’t take no for an answer” and “turned over every stone” until it was successful in arranging for the refugees to come to Atikokan.

The non-profit Newcomer Centre of Peel, which helps entire families integrate into Canadian society, was instrumental in facilitating the relocation, especially at the beginning of the recruiting initiative.

“Since then, it’s kind of grown,” Ouellet said. “Some of our employees from Ukraine are referring friends, family members, and friends of friends … direct sourcing. We have social media, and we have folks in Ukraine supporting us.”

Although the introduction to the workplace has gone well, there are some challenges in finding permanent housing for the mix of singles, couples and families.

Resolute has invested in temporary accommodation, including leasing a hotel and renting a dormitory at a conference centre.

Terry Ouellet says the company sees this as a short-term solution for employee housing.

Alex Bakal plans to stay, saying he appreciates all the help and support he’s received from the community, from his co-workers and from Resolute management.

Despite the pace, co-worker Sasha Vasylenko is impressed with the safety measures in place at the sawmill, saying safety was never taken so seriously in his previous jobs.

“I have a lot of experience working in big factory facilities…this company provides a very big effort for safety measures. I have never seen this before,” he said. The sawmill recently celebrated a five-year milestone without injuries.

Greg Curniski, who manages the sawmill, says small communities across Canada are dying as younger people move away to larger centres.

He said prior to the arrival of the Ukrainians, the mill was seeing turnover rates approaching 70%, but since then they have dropped to about 5%.


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