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BusINess » Business Workforce » Program points workers to careers in steel

Program points workers to careers in steel

Jon Andrew Sweeney, of Matteson, stands in front of a blast furnace Thursday at the ArcelorMittal steel mill in Burns Harbor. Sweeney was just hired by ArcelorMittal after taking classes at Prairie State College in the Steelworker for the Future program. ArcelorMittal has hired four recent graduates of Steelworker for the Future, a training partnership launched two years ago to bring more craft workers into the steel industry, said Mark Langbehn, manager of hourly employee training at ArcelorMittal USA. (Photograph by Jon L. Hendricks/The Times.)

Jon Andrew Sweeney, of Matteson, stands in front of a blast furnace Thursday at the ArcelorMittal steel mill in Burns Harbor. Sweeney was just hired by ArcelorMittal after taking classes at Prairie State College in the Steelworker for the Future program. ArcelorMittal has hired four recent graduates of Steelworker for the Future, a training partnership launched two years ago to bring more craft workers into the steel industry, said Mark Langbehn, manager of hourly employee training at ArcelorMittal USA. (Photograph by Jon L. Hendricks/The Times.)

Andrew Sweeney said it wasn’t part of his initial plan to work in the steel industry.

Hired earlier this year as an electrical maintenance technician working at ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor, Sweeney said his thoughts changed once he enrolled in a training program that helped him snag a job with the world’s largest steelmaker.

ArcelorMittal has hired four of five recent graduates of Steelworker for the Future, a training partnership launched two years ago to bring more craft workers into the steel industry, said Mark Langbehn, manager of hourly employee training at ArcelorMittal USA.

The partnership is a 2-1/2 year program that includes four semesters of classroom training at Ivy Tech Community College or Prairie State College and 24 weeks of on-site training at ArcelorMittal facilities.

About 80 students currently are enrolled in program.

“The work is highly technical and changes depending on the project,” Sweeney, 30, of Matteson, said of his job in the mill. “I had an electrical background and still was amazed at the size of the machinery and complexity of the maintenance work needed.”

Langbehn said the company knows the need to replace workers over the next few years is great. ArcelorMittal facilities in Northwest Indiana lose about 7.5 percent of their workers each year. That, coupled with an expected onslaught of retirements in the next five to 10 years, is exacerbating the need to find educated workers, including those who can repair sophisticated pieces of equipment in a variety of industrial environments.

Steelworker for the Future is one component of the company’s hiring plans, and efforts are underway to promote the program’s profile. In the last two weeks, open houses took place at Ivy Tech campuses in Valparaiso and East Chicago, where representatives from the school and company encouraged people to enroll.

Langbehn said he’s met with school superintendents from Lake and Porter counties, and the program has been showcased at career and technical schools and adult job fairs. Salaries for new employees through Steelworker for the Future program would have a starting salary of about $40,000 per year in base pay, and a benefit package including pension, healthcare and profit sharing.

He often tells the message that “there are solid, safe, sustainable jobs in steel, and it’s a good livelihood, and there’s a good opportunity there.”

Mike Fish, an electrical maintenance technician at ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor, said the training was beneficial to him because of the hands-on experience he received.

“I knew I had to take advantage of this type of opportunity and more people should,” said Fish, a 47-year-old Monee resident. “I definitely recommend seeking a career in the steel industry—there is demand for motivated, well-trained workers.”

Steelworker for the Future is expected to launch partnerships in Philadelphia and Weirton, W. Va., in spring 2011.

PROGRAM DESCRIPTION POINTS

Four semesters of classroom training

24 weeks of on-site training with compensation

Must have high school diploma or equivalent and pass college entrance exam or Performance Assessment Network evaluation for program admission

Completing the program yields students an associate degree in applied science as a mechanical or electrical technician

Graduation does not guarantee employment

For more information about the program, visit steelworkerforthefuture.com.

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