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Skills gap remains top issue for steel: execs

Keywords: Tags  AISTech, steel, ArcelorMittal, Tata Steel, Andrew Harshaw, Anand Sen, Chad Utermark, Nucor Nucor-Yamato

NEW YORK — Recruiting quality skilled workers remains a challenge for the steel industry, a number of executives said last week at the Association for Iron and Steel Technology’s AISTech 2013 conference in Pittsburgh.

"There is absolutely a skills gap," Andrew Harshaw, executive vice president of operations at Chicago-based ArcelorMittal USA LLC, said. "You can go to school and learn about electricity, but what do you know about PLCs (programmable logic controllers) and drives? I can’t spend three years teaching someone about the simple part of the business. They need to be ready to take on the much more difficult roles."

A number of executives said they are working with local high schools, colleges and universities to ensure that young workers are well-equipped to enter the steel world.

"Nucor (Corp.) as a whole is working with over 30 universities to attract talent," Chad Utermark, vice president and general manager of Blytheville, Ark.-based Nucor-Yamato Steel Co. and Nucor Castrip Arkansas LLC, said. "The big challenge I see is at the operator level. We’ve assigned each Nucor division to go out and educate young people, talking with them about what we do, taking videos into high schools and showing them what happens in a steel plant. It’s no longer executives and managers going into high schools, but we’ve had volunteers from our new recruits."

Others said that the steel industry can attract new talent by updating its public image. Particularly with needs at the operator, leadership and mechanical levels, the best change can be a simple one, they said.

"One of our biggest strengths is always our Achilles’ heel. We’re so proud of our history, but when you visit any steel plant, what you do see is the faded black-and-white pictures and smoke stacks," Anand Sen, vice president of Mumbai, India-based Tata Steel Ltd., said. "We account for only 4 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions, but we’re always the big bad boys. We need to change our visitor galleries with nice, big pictures and the latest computer controls. Who is responsible? We’re responsible."

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