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March 1, 2007

SPANNING THE GENERATIONS

The cover story in this issue of Forward looks at the emerging multigenerational workforce that will shape the metals industry in the coming decades. Multi-generational workforces are not new, but what may be new is the extent of the divide between the oldest leadership generation still at work and the youngest recruits now joining the industry.

Researchers tell us that today’s young people have substantially different expectations for work life because of their heavy engagement in today’s newer technologies, the larger gap between the youngest and oldest effective employees at a company (because life spans have grown steadily) and their desire—commonplace among the young of all eras—to distance themselves from the older generations.

We don’t claim to have discovered something new in writing about today’s version of the generation gap. But with so large a group of Baby Boomer managers headed toward nearer-term retirement, the strain on organizations from an influx of younger workers with different expectations and lifestyles is very real and almost certain to intensify.

Of particular note to the Metals Service Center Institute is the extent to which work in the metals industry has dropped from the aspirational radar screen of talented young people. The glamour jobs are in high technology, finance and entertainment, and today’s tech-savvy young want to be part of the most exciting businesses, just as we did.

The question for our industry is how to attract our share of employees of all kinds—managers and bright, hard-working shop floor workers alike. If metals manufacturing and distribution are regarded as dull, dirty, backbreaking work, few talented young people will make the industry their first choice, or even put metals on their potential employment list.

We at the institute agree with our members who say the time is approaching for an industry campaign to update the image of metals among potential employees. Metals production today is highly technical, heavily automated and quality-focused as never before. Metals distribution is no longer a simple task of carrying bundled commodities from one place to another. Today’s best service centers partner with their customers, engage in sophisticated firststage manufacturing processes, and work with a wide range of materials and circumstances.

Our image may be rusty among the young, but our reality is as varied, vibrant and vital to our future as any business you can find. What’s more, we in metals actually make things, and there’s a sense of satisfaction associated with manufacturing that most young people have yet to experience.

What I hope we can do is identify and proudly discuss with young people the fascinating careers now available to them in metals. It’s the foundation for our future and for the success and happiness of the generation that will take our place.