September 27, 2017 | by Steve Lawrence

Industry Bright Spots

Optimistic execs point to high tech business solutions, quality recruiting, and a steady economy

This year’s Economic Summit executive panel was optimistic not only about the economy, but also because of the tech and human resources strategies they are developing. They do see steady strength in the economy, but are also encouraged by the productivity improvements they are getting from big data, robotics and artificial intelligence applications. At the same time, they are reassured by the quality of new people they are recruiting and retaining while admitting that finding and training those people is difficult today.

“We spend a lot of time on recruiting and training employees to build a strong connection to Olympic,” said Rick Marabito, chief financial officer at Olympic Steel. “We make it a point to move good people through the organization. We tell people if they have a passion for this business and work hard, we guarantee there will be great opportunities at this company.”

“You have to manage recruitment and retention aggressively,” said Keith Harvey, president and chief operating officer at Kaiser Aluminum. “We have a formal process, for instance, where we do a review every month on each employee’s progress. This enables us to identify key employees in key areas.”

“We have a less than 2% turnover rate,” said Ladd Hall, executive vice president at Nucor. “Which means we are doing well matching the right people to the company. We pay handsomely and include incentives, so that the more we pay people the more the company is earning. We want to create an environment in which people like coming to work.

“There is still that challenge, though, of attracting young talent to what is often seen as a not very sexy industry,” Hall said. “Mobility is a huge factor for us, that is finding the right people who are willing to move around within the company. We do a lot of recruiting on college campuses and we also find that former military officers can make great teammates.”

In any case those “teammates” at each of these companies now find that their workplace, from factory floor to back office, is far different than it was even five years ago and continues to change rapidly. “It’s amazing what’s happening in manufacturing today,” said Harvey. “You have folks with iPads running operations with access to real-time data that has totally changed the way we monitor and operate the business.

“We have tightened our lead times and increased the efficiency of our on-time deliveries. The next phase will be machines talking to one another,” he said. “When we move robotics in, we also train those people to run them or to take other jobs within the company. With the Internet of Things, globalization and changes in the industry there is lots of opportunity and we believe the future is bright.”

“Investing in digital has been a big thing for us,” said Mike Peterson CEO of Petersen Aluminum Corporation. “These are not cheap investments and we spend a lot of time picking the right platforms.”

For the present and near future, the panel agreed with Rick Marabito. “This year has been better than we thought it would be,” he said. “We are optimistic going forward. We believe this economy has legs to it.”

For more executive opinions about the future of the metals industry, read our Metals Tendencies Report.

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