Tarja's more than 50-year career in the paper industry

IMG 20230329 181858

Tarja Kettunen broke many glass ceilings during her more than 50-year career in the paper industry

The last day of January 2023 was Tarja Kettunen's last working day. She retired at 67 after a more than 50-year career in the paper industry.

Kettunen's career began in 1971 in Varkaus at A. Ahlström's paper mill. Once, it was the largest paper mill in Europe. She was attracted to work in a male-dominated field by education, which included a paid internship.

– I was the first girl to study at the Ahlström-owned vocational school's paper-making course in 1971. I went straight there after high school. I had heard about the course from one of my brothers, and what was interesting was that they paid a salary for a year-long internship, Kettunen laughs.

The only woman in the whole factory

Kettunen completed her internship in the laboratory of the Varkaus paper mill and graduated in 1973. Then she started working at the mill, first in the laboratory, but quickly moved from there to the production side of the pulp mill.

– The factory's chief shop steward was worried that women would now take men's jobs, Kettunen sneers.

In 1973, Kettunen was the only woman working on the production side of the Varkaus paper mill. Other women were working in the laboratory and warehouse side.

A little later, two other girls came to learn the work at the paper mill, but they continued working in the factory's laboratory when they graduated. Kettunen, on the other hand, continued to work on the production side.

– The work on the production side was more varied than in the laboratory, and you were constantly learning new things. I've always been fascinated by that.

Studying alongside work was a tough time

The desire to learn new things and her curious nature led Kettunen to study process engineering in Kemi in 1976. The three years of study were full-time, and the holidays were spent working in the factory.

– That was a tough time. I switched shifts with my colleagues to take care of my studies, and during all the holidays, I also worked at the Varkaus paper mill.

The employer supported Kettunen in her studies. The factory manager wrote her a letter of recommendation to the school and said that if the night shift were quiet, she would be okay with Kettunen doing schoolwork there.

In addition, the employer paid half of the travel expenses to Kemi and gave money for textbooks. Kettunen received a scholarship from the mill's 100-year foundation when she graduated.

– I had found myself a husband in the factory warehouse, and in the 1980s, I was on maternity leave a few times. When I returned to work, I was offered the position of deputy foreman on a project, and later I was offered the position of shift foreman.

Another glass ceiling was broken, as Kettunen was Finland's first female shift foreman of a paper mill. It was a three-shift job, and in the 1980s, there were still no long holidays. Luckily, the husband's retired parents helped with the childcare.

As the children grew, their mother became an engineer

In the 2000s, when the children had already grown up, Kettunen wondered if she could still learn something new, even though she had already grown older.

– Alongside my work, I started my engineering studies at the Mechanical Engineering Department in Kuopio, where I graduated in 2001. After that, I worked as a quality engineer in the cardboard factory, and that's when I became more familiar with cores manufacturing, says Kettunen.

However, the paper mill in Varkaus stopped producing cardboard, and Kettunen was unemployed for a year. Then a position opened as a shift manager at the paper mill, but that job ended when the paper machines closed.

– In 2011, the Loviisa seal factory, then owned by Corenso United Oy, needed an operating engineer, and I signed a one-year contract with the factory. Eventually, that post stretched to 11 years, says Kettunen.

"An old employee" from a young age

In 2019, the Loviisa core factory was transferred to the ownership of Corex, and Kettunen joined as an old employee.

– I have had many employers during my career, and I have always been an old employee from a young age, Kettunen laughs.

When she retires, Kettunen will be less than 68 years old. She could have retired at the age of 63 if she wanted to.

– I didn't have the heart to retire then, but now it's time to get used to idleness. The plans are to go outdoors with the dog and arrange old cinefilm and videos into digital format. Time will tell what I will start to do when I grow up. Even the cars need to be maintained, and a scooter was bought for next summer's adventures, Kettunen concludes.