Investments in Education Are Paying Off for Steelmakers
By Amanda L. Blyth
Today’s steel industry is a high-tech, global business with myriad opportunities. But those opportunities require bright talent. Thus it is more important than ever to get the younger generation interested in a career in steel. Many steel-related companies and organizations are reaching out to students in college and K-12 to spark an interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs. This article explores the training and educational programs offered by five North American steel producers.
In the mid-2000s, ArcelorMittal recognized that a large number of employees in the maintenance technician mechanical and maintenance technician electrical (MTM/MTE) fields were eligible to retire within the next several years, and the number of potential skilled hires was very low. MTM and MTE positions are highly technical and require employees to have the necessary skills to install, maintain and upgrade automated equipment in the advanced manufacturing sector. In general, potential students and future employees were not aware of this career opportunity. Furthermore, ArcelorMittal USA could no longer offer the traditional five-year apprenticeship programs to train employees with the necessary skills. In late 2007, ArcelorMittal USA and the United Steelworkers began working together to develop a plan that would help individuals become future steelworkers. Steelworker for the Future® was launched in 2008 and modeled off a partnership between ArcelorMittal Dofasco Inc. and Mohawk College of Hamilton, Ont., Canada. This program still exists today and is highly successful.
About the Program
Offered on a continuous basis, Steelworker for the Future is intended for high school students who like working with their hands; are interested and successful in STEM; and do not intend to enroll in a traditional four-year college or university. Often, successful candidates are students who believe they want to be engineers, but then realize that engineering is very heavy in theory and math, whereas a technician has similar training but is more “hands-on” in the field. Steelworker for the Future also appeals to adults who are looking to change careers and are interested in and meet the program requirements.
The primary goal of Steelworker for the Future is to empower high school graduates to select this education alternative by making them employable upon graduation. The program aims to build a pool of candidates that are prepared to work for ArcelorMittal or any manufacturer as a maintenance technician. The program is designed to have students develop the basic skills at a partner college, get them to a minimum level to pass the craft entrance exam, and then have the knowledge to be continually trained on specific equipment. It’s important that students, parents and administrators understand the need at ArcelorMittal, as well as the importance and strength of U.S. manufacturing as a whole, and that the skills they obtain in the program are applicable to all manufacturers. The program addresses an important workforce challenge for ArcelorMittal, the American steel industry and U.S. manufacturing. It is a win-win for both potential employers and employees, as well as partner schools and the communities in which ArcelorMittal operates.
What Makes the Program Unique?
Internships at ArcelorMittal have traditionally been limited to professional careers such as engineering, human resources, accounting, etc. However, Steelworker for the Future expands internships to offer on-site technical training at an ArcelorMittal facility. These internships allow students to apply classroom learning, earn credit toward a degree and encounter invaluable mentoring opportunities while earning wages to fund tuition. Also, the program is unique in that it allows students to enter the program at the end of any semester. Other comparable programs are offered to “cohorts” of students who must apply to a “class” and then stay with that class for the duration of the program. ArcelorMittal’s program tends to work well with flexible schedules.
ArcelorMittal USA has an outreach program with high schools and middle schools to discuss manufacturing, maintenance technician careers, and the importance of obtaining the right skills for a high-demand job. This program reaches more than 15,000 students in local high schools and middle schools each year. Various ArcelorMittal USA sites also hold periodic information sessions at partner college locations to allow individuals to learn more. A key message is always that a four-year degree is not the only way to obtain a rewarding, high-paying career.
Students and Enrollment
Students must complete their first semester at a partner college’s specific program before enrolling. Internships are offered throughout the year based on the number of students in the program. Currently there are approximately 140 students enrolled in Steelworker for the Future programs at partner schools in Indiana, Illinois and Ohio. Since 2010, approximately 90 students have graduated from the program and have been offered a full-time job with ArcelorMittal.
After receiving a two-year associate degree, Steelworker for the Future graduates may have the opportunity to work as an MTM or MTE at ArcelorMittal, choose to work for another manufacturer, or continue their education at a four-year school to obtain a bachelor’s degree and become an engineer, manager, etc. As in most manufacturing settings, the options are limitless as to what the individual can achieve over the course of their career.
There are no guarantees of employment at the end of the program. With the internships, ArcelorMittal believes it is helping the students get a lucrative and exciting career in a high-demand field with any manufacturer. Other than the cost of the tuition at the partner college, there is no cost to the student regarding the internship, testing, etc. If the student declines an offer for full-time employment from ArcelorMittal at the end of the program, there is no obligation for any repayment or otherwise.
One challenge is maintaining the balance of bringing in new employees into the MTE/MTM field with upskilling current employees who want these careers. ArcelorMittal aims to upskill current employees when warranted; however, this comes with the cost of training replacements for those employees.
Another challenge is the belief of students, parents, teachers and administrators that a four-year degree is the only path to a rewarding, lucrative career.
Finally, there is the constant battling of the misperceptions associated with manufacturing. ArcelorMittal often opens its doors to students, parents and administrators to show that today’s steelmaking is much different than what their grandparents and other generations experienced. Steelmaking today is much safer, highly automated, and demands trained and tech-savvy individuals.