Go on, Steel yourself

Big organisations are fighting to attract the best from a limited pool of `flexible' people. Meg Carter sizes up the inducements on offer from British Steel

To many, the steel industry still conjures up images of molten metal and blue-collar workers sweating on the shop floor. However, the industry is working hard to update its image. Its latest initiative is a pounds 3m investment in the newest gallery at the Science Museum in London, Challenge of Materials, which has cost pounds 4.5m to develop and has just opened to the public.

The gallery explores everyday materials, examining their origins and their potential. At its heart sits a spectacular steel and glass bridge which spans the main hall of the museum. Other exhibits include a steel wedding dress and a Bakelite coffin. The idea is to blend science and industry with architecture, fashion and art.

Visitors, in particular children, will be encouraged to use the interactive exhibits which include an audio- visual representation of a modern steelworks and job profiles of different roles within the steel industry, from marketing director to apprentice, from European sales executive to personnel manager and metallurgist.

The sponsorship - the largest to date involving a UK museum - is far more than a flamboyant gesture, insists Joanna Biddolph, spokeswoman for the UK Steel Association, which represents 95 per cent of UK steel-producing companies. The aim is to change the industry's image and educate the population, both today's consumers and tomorrow's steel industry job applicants.

"The industry is still widely perceived in old-fashioned, outdated terms," Ms Biddolph explains. "Today, it's a high-tech business with few people now working on the shop floor." Job losses and denationalisation influenced the perceptions of many, and these have been passed down to the younger generation - many of whom think steel is an industry in decline. Yet steel is all around us, says Ms Biddolph. "People take it so much for granted, but its impact is wherever you look - from clothing to cars and your home."

The UK steel industry employs some 60,000 people. Like other sectors of manufacturing, it is facing increased competition for skilled employees. "It's not so much that we want to recruit a different type of person, but that we are more high tech - and international - than we were before, and we want more people to understand the opportunities we can offer," she says.

It is easy to think of steel as being a traditional heavy industry, but the pace of development within the business is very fast, says Mike Hitchcock of British Steel. "Seventy per cent of steels used today have been developed over the past decade. Our products are becoming more sophisticated and high tech, as our customers demand lighter materials."

Both British Steel and its customers need to attract highly trained people, he adds. "Part of the process involves getting youngsters to want to work in the industry and to be aware of its potential."

British Steel employs 40,000 in the UK and a further 10,000 overseas, where it is expanding, with new plants in the US and the Far East. Last year, British Steel recruited 180 graduates; this year it expects to take on between 180 and 200. "Our primary aim is to attract metallurgists and engineers," Mr Hitchcock says.

In return, companies like his can offer steady career development, he claims. "People tend to stay in steel for a long time. There's a good career path." British Steel is now attempting to narrow the gulf between its blue- and white-collar employees. It has also established a reputation for investing in training - it spends, on average, pounds 1,000 a year on each employee.

School packs and college liaison are already essential activities; the Science Museum sponsorship is an investment in a future generation of employees, Mr Hitchcock adds.

It is the same story at other steel industry businesses. Accountancy, marketing, product development, design and customer relations are just some of the job categories today's steel companies need to fill, says Simon Bedford at Twil, the UK's largest steel wire maker and a division of the Belgian group Bekaert. "The key challenge is making people think steel is a worthwhile business to get into," he adds.

"In line with other recruiters, we are no longer seeking single-issue people - we want flexible people. As it is becoming an increasingly international business, we have a particular need for good linguists. However, we are having to compete for these against accountancy firms, marketing and design companies."

Thirty per cent of those working in today's steel industry work in companies accredited as Investors in People - five times the national average, Ms Biddolph points out. The industry already has its own industry training organisation, Steel Training Limited, to raise the profile of training within the business. Young people can move into the industry through the Steel Industry Modern Apprenticeship; National Vocational Qualifications and national traineeship programmes are also available.

The Science Museum sponsorship provides a unique and accessible shop front for the industry - one that businesses hope will help sow the seeds now for their future recruitment needs. It will also be a platform for other information and education initiatives including a new career opportunities guide to be published by the UK Steel Association in the autumn.

Suggested Topics
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
News
i100
Life and Style
tech

Apple agrees deal with Visa on contactless payments

Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Humanities Teacher

£110 - £135 per day + Competitive Rates: Randstad Education Maidstone: Outstan...

Year 3 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Year 3 primary supply teacher ne...

General Cover Teacher - Grimsby

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: Qualified Teachers needed for Supply in t...

Nursery Teacher - Grimsby

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Job opportunity for Nursery Suppl...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor