WEIRTON - When considering the advent of the Steelworker for the Future program, it's best to look forward, not back.
Officials from ArcelorMittal Weirton, ArcelorMittal USA, the United Steelworkers union, West Virginia Northern Community College and Eastern Gateway Community College unveiled the local version of the program last week. One could have imagined all of them shouting "Now hear this..." into a bullhorn when asked what the prospects for jobs can be for program graduates.
The Steelworker for the Future program already is meeting success with education and co-op work-study periods through community colleges in Northwestern Indiana, where the first graduates are obtaining permanent jobs at ArcelorMittal plants.
STEELWORKER FOR THE FUTURE — The Steelworker for the Future program will take in its first students at Eastern Gateway Community College and West Virginia Northern Community College in the fall, with a goal of having first graduates complete the program in mid 2013, to fill available jobs at ArcelorMittal Weirton. Among those announcing the start of the program were, from left, Bob Rankin, United Steelworkers International training coordinator; Mark Glyptis, president of USW?Local 2911; Brian James, general manager of ArcelorMittal Weirton; Martin Olshinsky, president of West Virginia Northern; Laura Meeks, president of Eastern Gateway; Mark A. Langbehn, manager of employee training for ArcelorMittal USA; and Mike Koon, vice president of economic and work force development for West Virginia Northern.
-- Paul Giannamore
The Weirton ArcelorMittal mill will be facing a spate of retirements in the next few years, as it's 1,000-employee work force already has an average age of 58. Decades of downsizing ended the tradition of families following, generation after generation, into the mills. But now, stability has been the trend, and the time is approaching for opportunity for a new generation of manufacturing workers, with skills that fit the computerized steel mills and assembly lines and machine shops of today.
The steelmaker, union and college officials all offered their thoughts on the wide opportunities that are available, and will grow in the future.
Martin J. Olshinsky, West Virginia Northern president, said parents, high school counselors and students need to hear the message that there are pathways for students other than a four-year degree.
-- For information on the Steelworker for the Future, visit www.steelworkerforthefuture.com.
-- Participating local schools are Eastern Gateway and West Virginia Northern community colleges.
"There is opportunity for youth here. Too often, the talk focuses on four-year degrees. Some of those
may lead to a path and some may not," Olshinsky said. "This is one that leads to a job, that leads to security."
Laura Meeks, president of Eastern Gateway Community College, said the success of programs is in the results.
"If you take our new electrical line construction program, our graduates are getting good jobs. In power technology, they're getting good jobs. We have students from high schools wanting to get into those programs," she said. "If you show a person a good job at the end - and that's why our health programs have been so good, too - people want to be in it. People want to stay at home."
Mark A. Langbehn, ArcelorMittal USA's manager of employee training, said the internships that are part of the Steelworker for the Future program have a twofold purpose.
"One is to provide hands-on training to students, but the other part is to help us as a company, for ArcelorMittal and the steel industry, to sell that young lady or young man that this is a wonderful place to work," he said. "We have an image that we are trying to rebuild, too, as far as American manufacturing."
He said having students work in the plants allows them to learn what the steel industry is and what manufacturing can offer them as a career choice.
"This is a great opportunity for our company, for manufacturing, for education, for our community, to be able to bring young men and women into industry and give them the opportunity to see what manufacturing is in our country today," Langbehn said.
Meeks noted that because the internships are paid, there's yet another incentive - being able to earn money, pay for education and learn all at the same time.
Langbhen said, "There is sizzle to the steak at the end. Two and a half years from now, at age 21 or 22, you have the opportunity to come into the manufacturing sector and make between $60,000 or $70,000 a year with full benefits. We have to drive that into the middle schools and the high schools."
Much of the talk about new manufacturing education focuses on what educators call STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics learning. Langbehn said those lessons are critical to making sure students are college and work ready when they graduate from high school. He said manufacturing and education must work on partnerships to make sure students graduate ready to succeed in life.
Brian James, general manager of ArcelorMittal Weirton, said people who want to work at challenges and have visible satisfaction resulting from hard work will be the kinds of people who succeed in manufacturing.
"It's not for everyone. Yes, they're good-paying jobs, but when you come into the mill, you will be working hard," he said. Electrical and mechanical manufacturing work, which is the focus of the associate degree programs in the Steelworker for the Future program at WVNCC and EGCC, offer daily challenges in the form of various maintenance work.
"You will have a different challenge presented every single day," James said. "If you like to have an immediate return, you will see the results of your labor. You have a piece of equipment that is down. Nobody is making money when that equipment is down. You get a group of individuals together and they get that equipment up and running again. The satisfaction is immediate. It is that sense of accomplishment, I think, that is something to build upon.
"If you really want to work hard and be a part of a rewarding career, manufacturing is the place to be," said James.
The program also is open to older workers who may have lost jobs and seek retraining. Olshinski said those workers already have a good work ethic and experience of what it means to be in the work force and can be workers who get up and running faster. Internships in programs such as Steelworker for the Future allow employers to see their work ethic, as well as give participants a certain sense of loyalty from having had a start and training from a company.
Langbehn said in Northwest Indiana, 85 percent of the 90 students in the program there are returning adults. The program just now, after its founding in 2008, is reaching into the high-school student pool, he said.
Meeks said the idea of college-educated workers in manufacturing is nothing new. She recalled that when she came to the area 12 years ago and toured the mills, many workers were the engineering graduates of Jefferson Technical Institute and Jefferson Technical College.
She also said the focus for education in the region is changing.
"The new Ohio governor and others are seeing us as part of the manufacturing and technology belt," she said. "All eyes will be on manufacturing, and we will have a lot of help in marketing this from those people who believe in us and who believe we have the ability to deliver."
(Giannamore's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)