Metallurgy Careers Outlook
The steel industry again faced a threat from imported steel in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This international dumping of steel in the United States is the result of a worldwide oversupply. These imports, along with other domestic factors, caused the bankruptcies of over 42 U.S. steel companies since 1998, according to the United Steelworkers of America. In 2002, the Bush administration imposed tariffs on steel imported into the United States from other countries in an attempt to improve the health of the industry. However, these tariffs were lifted in 2003, in a move that many in the steel industry considered to be premature, citing that U.S. steel producers did not have enough time to effectively confront the glut of foreign imports.
According to the Career Guide to Industries, employment in the steel industry is expected to decline by 13 percent over the 2004–14 period. This decline can partly be attributed to competition from overseas and increasing domestic consolidation, but other factors affecting employment include new technology and machinery requiring fewer employees, and stricter environmental regulations. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that employment opportunities at mills that use electric arc furnaces will be good as these types of mills continue to make up a larger segment of the steel market. Despite a prediction of overall employment decline, the department predicts that opportunities will be good for the following professions in the steel industry: engineers (including mechanical, metallurgical, industrial, electrical, and civil), computer scientists, and skilled production workers.
The American Iron and Steel Institute reports that labor productivity tripled over the last decade and a half of the 20th century, dropping from 10.1 man-hours per ton to 3.2 man-hours per ton. This is due to the industry’s investment in new plant and equipment, which streamlined every step of the steelmaking process. This streamlining, although good for industry production and profits, has resulted in a drastically reduced workforce. However, the Occupational Outlook Handbook notes that computerized and automated manufacturing methods will not have as drastic an effect on employment trends in years to come, as some companies have automated the process as much as they can at this point.
Employment is also affected by the health of other industries that depend on steel production, such as automakers, manufacturers of household appliances, and the construction industry. As a sluggish economy slows employment in those industries, jobs for steel production workers will be more at risk.
There is an ongoing search for new applications for nonferrous metals. Lightweight aluminum is increasingly being used in vehicle manufacturing, and aluminum producers expect to see an increase in shipments as a result. They have saturated the beverage market, but are experiencing an increased demand from aerospace companies. Copper production and consumption are at all-time highs, according to some industry reports. About 70 percent of U.S. copper consumption is for electrical and electronic use, although competition from plastics is making some inroads. Since copper usage is associated with industrialization and economic development, demand for copper from developing countries has been promising.
Many metals companies are joining in partnerships with other companies, with partnerships between domestic and foreign producers becoming more common. The industry as a whole is expected to undergo many changes, and companies will need to make the most of technological trends in order to survive.
Related Career Fields:
- Electroplating Workers
- Forge Shop Workers
- Heat Treaters
- Iron and Steel Industry Workers
- Job and Die Setters
- Metallurgical Engineers
- Metallurgical Technicians
- Precision Metalworkers
- Sheet Metal Workers
For More Information:
- American Foundry Society
- American Iron and Steel Institute
- ASM International
- Forging Industry Association (FIA)
- The Minerals, Metals, & Materials Society
- Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration