Paper Manufacturing Operative

The Job and What's Involved

Paper manufacturing operatives oversee the processes that turn raw materials into paper.

Paper is made either from wood pulp sourced from sustainable forests, or recycled from waste ('recovered') paper. By varying their production process, manufacturers can create paper suitable for a vast range of uses - from lightweight tissue to heavy board.

The results are found in everyday households in the form of books, newspapers, stationery and tissue paper, for example. Paper is also put to specialist use in items such as roofing, flooring and electrical boards.

In preparing the raw materials, operatives may:

  • Transfer bales of pulp or recovered paper into a pulper - a large water tub with an agitator to break up the bales.
  • Oversee a refining process, where the fibres are made more pliable.
  • Clean the finished stock to remove impurities, such as grit and plastics.
  • Add chemicals or dyes to achieve the right characteristics in the finished paper.

The stock is then transferred to a paper machine. A typical machine is about the length of two football pitches, and around four metres wide. The machine forms the fibres into a mat, squeezes out some of the water and dries the sheet using steam-heated cylinders.

Sophisticated control systems monitor the moisture content and other properties of the paper. Operatives can watch the process on computer screens, and are alerted by an alarm when adjustments are required.

Operatives have different tasks, depending on what part of the machine they work at. At the 'wet end', where the paper stock is still very moist, they may:

  • Monitor the flow into a plastic mesh conveyor belt, where the fibres are distributed evenly.
  • Oversee the draining away of the water.
  • Apply chemical additives as required.

At the 'dry end', they may:

  • Monitor the paper as it passes through steam-heated drying cylinders.
  • Add water and starch to improve the surface of the paper for printing.
  • Operate a 'supercalender', in which the paper is passed through rollers to give a smooth, shiny finish.

Operatives then inspect the paper and ensure that it is wound properly onto huge rolls, which can weigh several tonnes. They may then cut, weigh and wrap the rolls of finished paper into smaller reels which are easier to handle.

The reels of paper are then converted into paper products. Sometimes the reels are supplied to another plant, but some paper makers do their own converting. For example, manufacturers of soft tissues market their own products.

Many papermaking plants run continuously, so paper manufacturing operatives work shifts to cover all hours.

The work is based in pulp and paper mills. Operatives are based in a control room, where they monitor the processes on screen. They also work on the factory floor. This environment can be noisy and hot. Some lifting and work at height may be required.

Operatives need to be alert to the safety issues involved in working with heavy plant and chemicals. They wear protective clothing, including boots, ear defenders, goggles and gloves.

Trainee operatives may earn £12,000 to £15,000 a year. With experience, earnings may rise to around £25,000 to £40,000, which may include bonus or overtime payments.

Papermaking supervisors can earn up to £50,000.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Around 9,900 people work in paper and board manufacturing in England. The number employed has declined over the past few years.

The industry has a turnover of £3,200 million every year. There are paper mills in all parts of the country, with particular concentrations in the North West, Yorkshire and Humberside, the East Midlands and the South East.

Vacancies are found in Connexions centres, Jobcentre Plus offices, local and national press, and specialist publications such as Paper Technology.

Education and Training

There are no set entry requirements for this work. However, employers may look for GCSE's (A*-E) in English, maths and science subjects.

The Diploma in manufacturing and product design may also be relevant. Students are introduced to manufacturing processes and production systems. Work experience of at least ten days forms part of the course.

Apprenticeships in paper and board manufacture are available.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work, Careers Wales; and for Northern Ireland contact

Candidates who have an HNC/HND in a subject such as engineering may be able to enter at a higher level, such as a paper technologist or maintenance engineer. For an HNC/HND, minimum entry requirements are usually one A level in a science or maths subject, a BTEC National Certificate/Diploma, or equivalent qualifications.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Operatives train on the job, under supervision from experienced colleagues.

They may study for a Certificate in paper technology at Levels 2 and 3, developed by the Confederation of Paper Industries (CPI) and accredited by PAA/VQSET.

They may also work towards NVQ's, including:

  • Performing manufacturing operations at Levels 1 and 2.
  • Papermaking, fibreboard operations or combined working practices at Levels 2 and 3.
  • Process operations, performing engineering operations and performing manufacturing operations at Level 2.

Operatives need to keep up with new papermaking techniques and products. The Paper Industry Technical Association (PITA) runs short courses and conferences.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A paper manufacturing operative must be:

  • Practical and good at working with their hands.
  • Alert and able to concentrate for long periods.
  • Comfortable working with computer technology and heavy machinery.
  • Good at communicating, verbally and in writing.
  • Able to work from plans and diagrams.
  • Accurate and methodical.
  • Good at problem solving.
  • Able to use their initiative.
  • Effective at working within a team.
  • Aware of safety issues.

Your Long Term Prospects

Experienced operatives may be able to advance into roles as supervisors or quality technicians. They may then be able to move into management, or into another area of the industry such as sales.

By studying for a degree in a science or engineering subject, it may be possible to take on a process engineering role.

There is a large overseas paper industry and it may be possible to work abroad.

Get Further Information

Confederation of Paper Industries (CPI),
1 Rivenhall Road, Swindon SN5 7BD
Tel: 01793 889600

The Paper Industry Technical Association (PITA),
5 Frecheville Court, Bury, Lancashire BL9 0UF
Tel: 0161 764 5858

Proskills UK, Centurion Court,
85b Milton Park, Abingdon,
Oxfordshire OX14 4RY
Tel: 01235 833844

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