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Getting a handle on the human capital predicament


North America is facing a new work force transformation the exodus of baby boomers from the work place.

Education, energy, government and manufacturing sectors are all facing a very strong increase in retirements over the next two decades. About 76 million baby boomers will be leaving the work force between 2011 and 2029, with an estimated 2.7 million manufacturing-sector employees likely to leave the work force over the next 10 years, according to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).

Somewhere between 30 and 50 percent of the North American steel industry's work force will be eligible to retire in the next five years, according to a story in the August 2007 monthly issue of AMM. This is creating a challenging predicament, but on the flip side of the coin it is a tremendous opportunity for talented young students.

The steel industry provides opportunity for growth and responsibility in every facet of our business. Steel plants today are ultra-modern facilities that employ the latest automation technologies and deliver products that improve our environment. Did you know that the steel industry in the United States emits the lowest CO2 per ton of production of any in the world? We're not satisfied with that performance, though, and are currently developing new ways to make steel that would emit little or no carbon dioxide.

Steel companies today are healthy and growing enterprises and we are looking to recruit the future men and women of steel—engineers, metallurgists, accountants, marketers, you name it.

I began with a bachelor's degree in accounting and finance and went to work for an upstart company named Nucor Corp. back in 1972. As the Charlotte, N.C.-based company grew, I took on new responsibilities every year, until the challenge of starting my own company became so attractive that I left and founded Steel Dynamics Inc. (SDI) in 1993. I know well the opportunities that our industry provides young, motivated people.

One way the North American steel industry is reaching out to students is through the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) and the Association for Iron and Steel Technology (AIST) Foundation. AISI and AIST have together launched two scholarship initiatives, known as the Ferrous Metallurgy Education Today (FeMet) initiative and the Steel Engineering Education Link (StEEL) program.

FeMet is focused on getting more students to choose metallurgy or materials science as their field of study and then recruit more of these graduates into the steel industry. This initiative includes 10 two-year scholarships of $5,000 or $10,000 a year, as well as grants to universities to update their curricula to be consistent with the latest steel products and steelmaking techniques; and "design grants," where student-faculty teams work on topical steel-related projects. The StEEL program has the same scholarship format and is focused on all other engineering disciplines.

Since 2005, the FeMet and StEEL programs have awarded a total of 63 scholarships to deserving students across North America. In our second and most recent graduating class, nine of the 10 FeMet scholarship recipients went to work full time for a steel company.

Another innovative AISI-sponsored program that is energizing young people about future steel-related careers is the College for Creative Studies (CCS)/AISI Summer Internship Program. Celebrating its 20th year this fall, the CCS Internship offers up-and-coming transportation design students the opportunity to compete in designing concept cars according to assigned specifications and incorporating the latest in advanced high-strength steels and safety technologies.

Ralph Gilles, a former intern with the CCS program, has worked at Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Chrysler LLC for the past 16 years, and credits the experience he gained in the program as one fact that helped him compete successfully against other candidates for the position that he ultimately secured.

These programs, along with others sponsored by AISI, complement the recruitment that is taking place within individual steel companies across North America. Many steel companies, as is the case with Fort Wayne, Ind.-based SDI, use co-op and internship programs as an effective means of introducing young people to careers in steel, and are continuing to reach out to colleges and universities in order to expose students to the opportunities within the steel industry.

Today's steel industry is strong, growing and has a bright future wherein one can truly build a career, making it an industry that is more and more attractive to graduates and other recruits.

Keith Busse is chairman of the American Iron and Steel Institute and chairman and chief executive officer of Steel Dynamics Inc.

Metals Forum appears monthly and is open to submissions addressing issues of concern to the metals community.

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