Steel Products

Millennials on Millennials: We Want to Make a Difference

Written by Sandy Williams

Millennials are the steel industry’s future and are anxious to solve problems and get results. Attendees who remained for the final presentation at the SMU Steel Summit heard an eye-opening discussion on just what the millennial generation is seeking and how the steel industry can recruit and retain talent from this important demographic.

Three young professionals from Pacesetter, Cargill, and Hubbell, Inc., offered their insights on millennial behavior, goals, and recruitment.

Jack Bellissimo, manager of corporate sourcing (steel) at Hubbell, called Millennials “problem solvers with entrepreneurial tendencies.” Born between 1982 and 2012 and at 80 million strong, it is one of the largest generations in U.S. history. Millennials are result- and time-oriented. They want to get work done faster and more efficiently in order to be a more effective employees, he said.

They want employers to take an interest in their work and offer direction. And they want recognition for their efforts. “If you want me to do something really challenging and I get little reward for the effort, do I want to do it again?” he asked. Millennials don’t want participation medals, just acknowledgement, and then they will work even harder, he said.

Cross training this generation, and others, is critical to building an ascension chain, said Bellissimo. The traditional steel industry hierarchy is an upside down pyramid, too top heavy with senior executives, often leaving Millennials no clear career path. Millennials want growth within the company and seek open doors and learning opportunities. 

Justin Philipp is a talent acquisition and management tactician for Pacesetter Steel and knows the challenges the industry has in recruiting young talent. Millennials are tech savvy and don’t drop off resumes. They use agencies, postings, and online sources to look for jobs. Often they don’t know much about the company and industry they are applying for, which is where good recruitment techniques come into play.

The hiring process is like a marriage, Philipp said, progressing from dating to commitment. Millennials appreciate and expect honesty. Be sure to discuss company culture and expectations. You don’t want to hire high potential talent and then lose them in six months because they “did not sign up” for 60-hour work weeks, travel, etc.

Millennials are interviewing not just for the current position, but the one they want to have down the road, said Philipp. Who will I work for, how will I make a difference? How will what I do have meaning and how will it affect the company’s bottom line? They want to meet at the interview not just an immediate supervisor but team members and higher level executives.

Culture is important to Millennials. Be who you are and don’t pretend to be a Google or Amazon. Less than 10 percent of companies actually live up to image they project to candidates. If candidates don’t fit your culture, don’t hire them, said Philipp.

Attract Millennials by offering personal and professional growth through community volunteer opportunities and internal promotions. If new hires are not referring other candidates to your company, ask why, because that is where you will find other high potential talent.

Millennials are talked about more than any other generation and are considered a “needy” generation that may not fit into the traditional workplace, said Guarav Chhibbar, a freight trader for Cargill Metals. The market forces adaptation, however, said Chhibbar, citing the introduction of email to tech-wary Baby Boomers. 

Like other manufacturing sectors, the steel industry’s future is threatened by a lack of manpower, said Chhibbar. Only 1 in 3 people want their children to enter manufacturing jobs. It is also facing an aging workforce. In the metalworking machinery manufacturing industry, 59.4 percent of the workers are above the age of 45; in the steel and iron producing industry, it’s 47.9 percent. As Baby Boomers retire, how will they be replaced?

One of the biggest challenges facing the industry today is similar to the sub-prime crisis in the 2008-2009 financial markets. The industry should avoid taking sub-prime employees to fill workplace deficits because they will underperform down the road. There is a difference between having people and having the right people, Chhibbar noted.

Shielding one’s best talent from poaching by other firms is to your company’s detriment, said Chhibbar. If your assets are considered attractive and skilled enough to be desired by others, let them go, rather than depriving them of opportunity to grow within the industry and become even more valuable.

The U.S. steel industry is lacking in its efforts to recruit, train and offer apprenticeship programs that will ensure the continued viability of the industry. Technology upgrades are necessary to keep Millennials engaged, along with teamwork and providing generalized frameworks for expectations. Invest in teaching, training and apprenticeship programs, urged Chhibbar.

The image of the steel industry could use an upgrade to attract Millennials, said one attendee at the conference. They want to join exciting, vibrant industries that they can be proud to tell their friends about on social media. To many, the steel industry is still a “dirty word.”

The steel industry needs to take responsibility for improving its image and educating future workers about the dynamic careers in steel at a young age, the panelists agreed.

Written by Sandy Williams,

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