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Working in the Steel Industry

By Camille Grayson
on December 13, 2018

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work with steel? The industry offers more than you might think — including a good livelihood, career advancement, strong friendships and pride in manufacturing quality products used in an array of applications. We’ve heard these themes again and again from the steelworkers we’ve interviewed since the launch of the American Metal initiative nearly one year ago. They all encourage young people to consider careers in the steel industry because of the wide range of benefits.

A Good Livelihood
Steelworkers consistently tout the industry for its high pay. “At a young age I was able to come here and provide a good living for myself and my family, so there was no reason to leave,” said Karen Yanak, Buffoli operator at Wheatland Tube. “I’m proud to have worked here for 30 years. It’s been a great opportunity for me.”

Nathan Page, a shipper at Wheatland, agreed. “We make good money,” he said. “[It helps] provide for me and my family.”

Jimmy Rodriguez, warehouseman at Western Tube, echoed these sentiments. “It’s a good job; it’s a job to keep,” he said. “You want to be here. It’s a good place to work.”

Career Advancement Opportunities
People say they stay in the steel industry because of the opportunities to develop new skills and move up the ladder.

“I started out at the bottom and worked to the top,” said John Stephens, processing manager at Great Lakes Reloading. “I was trained here. I did take the test. I am a certified welder.”

Keith Blue, executive vice president at Great Lakes Reloading, also grew into his current position. “I started 30 years ago as an hourly employee,” he said. “[I worked as a] saw operator, crane operator, rail foreman, [then] started taking on management positions, ran a couple of facilities, [was] director of operations [and] decided to get into sales.”

Mike Tobin, furnace operator at Wheatland Tube, has been with the company for 25 years. “Furnace is a line of progression,” he said. “You start at the very bottom and work your way up. Knowledge is passed down from the older guys to the younger guys.”

George Ervin has worked at Wheatland Tube just as long. He’s now mill operator there. “I came in, I said I’d be here six months, and now I’m on 25 years,” he said. “It’s been a great thing. I’ve enjoyed the growth.”

Strong Friendships on the Job
Spending so much time at one company helps create friendships that last a lifetime. “Some people have been here 20, 30, even 40 years. They’ve grown up with each other here at this location,” said Gerald Kurelko, plant manager at Atlas Tube. “So it’s a very tight-knit plant. Everybody kind of looks out for each other. They spend a lot of time together. As much as with their families.”

Saul Magana, Jeep driver at Wheatland Tube, has found the same camaraderie at his company. “It’s like a little family,” he said. “You spend so much time with somebody, you become close to them. Become comfortable. I like it here.” He added that “it’s a diverse culture. I’ve even learned a little Polish. It’s great. Together we make a great team.”

Jim Kushner, inside sales rep at Wheatland Tube, pointed out that you don’t have to work at the company for decades before you feel like part of the team. “Day 1, you come in. Everybody welcomes everybody,” he said. “Nobody wants to see anybody fail. It’s a team environment. We know that if one person’s out, they’re leaning on us to help their customers.”

“It’s a nice, calm, laid-back environment,” said Sunny Skinner, truck loader at Wheatland Tube. “We encourage each other. We help each other out so we can achieve the same goal. I would have to say it’s an overall great work environment.”

Pride in Manufacturing Quality Products
Steelworkers enjoy the job beyond the friendly work environment — they have the honor of manufacturing high-quality pipe and tube products used as structural supports, mechanical and gas lines, fence posts, electrical conduit and much more.

As Andy Rykala, mechanic at Wheatland Tube, said, “I have many friends that work in construction, and if I see them working with our product, I always say, ‘Our company made that!’ and I’m very proud.”

Dave Maurer, shipping manager at Wheatland Tube, said, “The thing that I’m most proud of is when I go out to a baseball game or a hotel, traveling, and I see our products, I know that we had a part in building the infrastructure of this country and providing jobs for middle class America, and that’s something I take a lot of pride in.”

Allan Vazquez, facility manager at Great Lakes Reloading, agreed. “We just did a job for the Omaha airport,” he said. “We did about 1,000 pieces. And for me to know … material that we handle / fabricate is being used in such an airport — [it] makes me feel good about the work that we’re doing.”

Opportunities for Young People
With all these benefits, the steel industry truly is a great place for young people looking to build successful careers that can support a family.

David Smith, president of Sharon Fence, said, “Don’t believe the hype that everyone needs to go to college. [There are] lots of good jobs in manufacturing — entry-level jobs where we can train [you].”

Moises Huerta, branch manager at Eagle Fence Distributing, said, “The reason I wanted my sons to get into this is there’s a need for young people to learn the industry.”

And when young people support the steel industry, the steel industry supports them. As Michael Gerht, senior technical specialist at Western Tube, said, “If you want to get a stable job, provide a great living for your family, this is a great place to start. It’s hard work, but if you’re hard working and you’re dedicated, it’ll pay off.”

To learn more about careers in the steel industry, visit zekelman.com/careers