A two-year initiative that is training UPM Timber's sales team to better understand the production process at Finnish sawmills is helping to set the firm apart from the competition.
After flying into the nation's capital from numerous countries around the world, the entire international sales staff at UPM Timber have made their way 450km north to a remote Finnish sawmill to begin a week of hands-on training. Designed to help them better understand the production process, the initiative is facilitating the sales team's goal of serving customers more effectively and more professionally.
The Nordic sawn timber producer aims to be the industry's number one choice by investing in training that not only includes matters of production, but also courses in economics, reporting and IT skills. Launched in spring 2019, the two-year programme has been a significant investment for UPM Timber, but the results are already beginning to show.
Logging valuable time together
"UPM has always encouraged its employees to join training programmes, but this is the first time we have planned one for such a long term," begins Satoshi Sakashita, a representative of the UPM sales team in Japan who is also responsible for organising the programme.
Last autumn, the first batch of two planned on-site technical training events was held at the UPM Alholma sawmill, located in the Finnish town of Pietarsaari. A mix of personnel from sales offices across Asia and Europe took turns to spend five workdays learning about the site's production flow, gaining useful knowledge from the staff and communicating face to face with production managers.
Jukka Fehr, a sales manager for the Central European market who has been with UPM for 11 years, said that the increased direct contact with sawmill colleagues was the most notable difference from previous training courses. "Spending some time together is important and nice, otherwise you only talk via email and the telephone. The personal contact was special and new in that respect."
Over the course of a week, the trainees experienced all the key processes, such as log measurement, sawing theory and production, as well as delivery and storage management. For Fehr, he was surprised by some of the old-style approaches, such as the sawmill plates being changed manually every day and the flat wagons on tracks being pushed by hand into the kilning chambers.
"The training was not too overloaded, so there was enough time to also do our daily work, like checking emails and making calls. The social life was also there. In the evening, we went to the sauna and ate dinner together," recalls Fehr fondly. "It was a nice and friendly atmosphere, especially with the colleagues from the sawmills. They made every effort so we would feel comfortable."
UPM is currently working on additional elements for the programme, such as localised financial training to gain better knowledge about accounting reports and ratio analysis, as well as IT training to familiarise the team with existing programmes. Further, the introduction of a new production planning tool will be implemented in the next quarter.
The technical training was a good chance for everyone to get to know each other.
Sales branching out across the world
"The company has very clear targets," states Sakashita, who has worked for UPM for 18 years. "We aim to have a 'full-run operation', which means we continue production at full capacity and, at the same time, sell the full volume to the market. To achieve this, we try to provide the best solution to customers and be their number one choice. I think the experience from the training programme can support its realisation."
Interactive communication among the sales team is an area that Sakashita has seen improvement. "We are working in different places and markets, so we don't have too many opportunities to help each other. The technical training was a good chance for everybody to get to know each other. If I have a business question, I can now easily call other salespeople working in Germany or the UK."
Upon his return to Germany, Fehr acknowledges that he now understands much more about the technical and logistical issues of the sawmill, as well as how his colleagues are planning, producing and kilning. All of this new knowledge will help him to provide the best solutions to UPM Timber's customers and maximise the value of their timber sales.
UPM's willingness to invest in sales expertise development is supporting its strategy to be the number one choice for its customers in any market. Sakashita concludes that the training programme will enable the team to perform their sales activities far better than before, providing clients with an added value that sets UPM Timber apart from the competition.
Text: Asa Butcher
Photos: Jukka Fehr, UPM