When I realized that my metallurgical career began four decades ago in May, I decided to take a look at one 40-year career in this field. A motivation to do so is some recent condescension of Baby Boomers by younger generations because we have not had it as tough as they. That may be true, but I’ll let you decide.
My metallurgical journey began as a co-op student in May 1980, the summer after my sophomore year. I began in the melt shop and continuous-caster departments of Crucible Steel in Midland, Pa. By the end of my third term (one full year of work) in December 1981, Crucible was telling co-ops that we might not be able to return due to poor business conditions.
The entire steel industry was collapsing in the 1980s. More than 200,000 steelworkers and many metallurgists lost their jobs, and more than 400 mills and divisions – including Crucible Midland – closed. This necessitated my first job move to finish my co-op experience. Because of the economic climate, I decided to stay in school a little longer to get my MS degree, so I shifted to U.S. Steel Research for two subsequent co-op terms ending in August 1983. This facility dropped from its peak of 1,800 people in 1979 (my second year of college) to 82 in 2009. Needless to say, it wasn’t a viable employment option upon graduation.
In fact, after graduating with my MS in September 1983, very few jobs were available for metallurgists in Pittsburgh. Unemployment in our area peaked at 18.2% in 1983 – a tough year to be looking for a job!
Wanting to continue in melting, my wife and I moved to the Albany, N.Y., area, where I took a job as Melt-Shop Metallurgist for Al Tech Specialty Steel. I was there from September 1983 through April 1985. Monthly financial losses were high during that time, and I felt we could not expect this to remain a viable career option. Al Tech closed entirely (in Albany) by 1999, but portions were closed within a decade of my departure.
My second position was as a Materials Engineer at a New Hampshire aerospace bearing manufacturer, Split Ballbearing (a division of MPB Corp.). We decided a house purchase was in order, but that was a challenge due to interest rates, which were 13.2% plus 2.5 points when we purchased in April of 1985.
When hired, employment was around 500 at this facility. During my tenure, it ramped up to 1,200 with a facility expansion. MPB was purchased in 1987 by speculator Harold Geneen and in 1990 by Timken. Aerospace went into a major tailspin by the early 1990s, however, and layoffs caused employment levels in 1992 to drop to near when I was hired. The writing was on the wall, and it was time for another move.
I began at Washington Steel (Washington, Pa.) as Senior Metallurgist and Manager of Quality Control for three facilities. During my tenure, Washington was acquired twice – by Lukens Steel and Bethlehem Steel – and it was clear by 1998 that the life had been sucked out of this good company. By 1999, the plant was sold and closed.
I chose to leave before that (1998) to become the Corporate Manager of Quality Assurance for Quality Rolls, a forged-roll manufacturer in Pittsburgh with four plants in Pennsylvania and Ohio. As with most companies in the metals’ industry, we went through a number of ups and downs. So, I chose to leave that position in 2006 to become editor of this esteemed publication.
Fourteen years later, I continue to serve you in this role. But it has been a somewhat rocky road in publishing during that time, beginning with the great recession of 2008 and continuing to the digital revolution we are currently experiencing.
Perhaps my experience will illustrate that most careers come complete with many challenges. What will the coming years bring? Your guess is as good as mine, particularly as life returns to “normal” following COVID-19. Enjoy the summer!