Steel Shutdown: Why steel offers workers a bright future

Thinking of a career? Try Steel. Industry experts say thousands of skilled, high paying jobs will be available in the next five years. It's Work Week at CBC Hamilton. We are taking a look at jobs in Hamilton: where they have gone, what remains, and which industries are desperate for employees.
A boat sails past the U.S. Steel plant in Hamilton, Ont. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

In light of the last week’s news of U.S. Steel shutting down its Hamilton steel manufacturing operation, its Work Week at CBC Hamilton. We are taking a look at jobs in Hamilton: where they have gone, what remains, and which industries are desperate for employees. 

Looking for work? Consider a career in the steel industry.

Dofasco has hiring plans. But if you don't want to work there, you could go to Nelson Steel, Union Drawn Steel, Canadian Drawn Steel or Laurel Steel. And even with last week's news of U.S. Steel shutting down its manufacturing operation, they'll still be work there, too.

“There are going to be jobs. There’s going to be good quality jobs,” said Dr. Peter Warrian, a senior research fellow at the University of Toronto and leading Canadian expert in the steel industry.

In fact, Warrain projects that the steel industry in Canada will need more than 20,000 new workers in the next five years to replace retiring staff and fill new jobs.

But getting those jobs will be different than in the past. Traditionally in Hamilton, all it took was a high school diploma to get a job at a steel mill and sons followed fathers into the mills. Now, workers need to be skilled.

The kind of people we need to run the kind of technology we operate here are very skilled individuals with highly advanced education.- Rob Parker, VP Corporate Administration and Human Resources at AMD

And it may not be easy for the industry to find people with the advanced skills it needs.

“There’s a shortfall, so part of this is, what are kids in high school talking about because they’re making course selections that are important to what happens to them later,” he said. “Virtually everybody who works at a steel mill going forward will have a $70,000 plus job, but they’re going to have at least two years of community college before getting into it.”

He said high school guidance councillors, teachers and colleges need to get this through their heads.

Why so many jobs? A good part of it driven by demographics in the industry that has a bulge of workers in the 50s and 60s with 30 years experience.

At ArcelorMittal Dofasco in Hamilton, they’re preparing to hire 1,500 employees in the next three to five years, a rate that's double what was happening in past  years. 

"We will have to replace most of those people," said Rob Parker, Vice President Corporate Administration and Human Resources at AMD. "We will have a requirement for highly skilled technologists and engineers and many other occupations. It's a pretty significant knowledge loss."

Dofasco currently employs 5,200 at their Hamilton operation.

Growing apprenticeships

Parker says the company has, over many years, built partnerships with Mohawk College and McMaster University to aid its recruiting and runs the province's largest apprenticeship program, one it is looking to expand even more.

Trades people are increasingly difficult to find but Parker says his company isn't just looking for skills. It also wants workers who can thrive and adapt to an environment that demands constant innovation and improvement.

"We really have been focusing on people who have been demonstrating not just technical skill but also the behavioural side." 

Parker says events at U.S. Steel don't affect AMD's recruiting and that the new jobs are not the typical image people have of work in a steel mill.

"The days of it being dirty, shoveling coal are long gone. The kind of people we need to run the kind of technology we operate here are very skilled individuals with highly advanced education."

Our product is still steel

Data collected by the city of Hamilton shows steel is still the core industry in Hamilton. In 2012, manufacturing in Hamilton increased by 2.7 per cent.

Over 10,000 people are employed in steel manufacturing and fabrication in Hamilton, according to 2009 Statistics Canada data. About 2,000 people are employed in machinery.

But not all these people are employed at places like U.S. Steel or Dofasco.

“The majority of Hamilton's Advanced Manufacturers are small and medium-sized companies with less than 50 employees. Most of them are privately owned, and export a significant percentage of their product and possess a highly skilled workforce,” reads a recent city report.

Warrian doesn’t doubt that there has been a downfall in the steel industry. He knows there has been a decline – about three per cent a year in tune with productivity decline. But, that isn’t necessarily the picture that should be painted for the future.

“These are difficult times and the Stelco story is winding away to an end of a sad and tough story, but people shouldn’t jump from there to the most dire of consequences of the story,” Warrian said. “Steel is important to the economy, it’s important to the country and it should be in our future.”


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