Steel is one of the basic building blocks of the modern world. Automobiles, appliances, bridges, oil pipelines, and buildings are all made with steel. While steel manufacturing has existed for centuries, the process for making steel continues to evolve. Despite numerous changes and growing pains, the US steel industry continues to remain a major player within this large, competitive and global industry.
Organisation and recent developments
The steel industry consists of EAF (electric arc furnace) and integrated mills that produce iron and steel from scrap or molten metal. Competition from all these mills has resulted in increasing specialization of steel production, as the different mills attempt to capture specific niches in the market. Steel manufacturing is an intensely competitive global industry. By continually improving manufacturing processes and consolidating businesses, the U.S. steel industry has increased productivity sufficiently to remain competitive in the global market. Investment in modern equipment and worker training has transformed it from one of the nation's most moribund to one of the world leaders in worker productivity and the lowest cost producer for specific types of steel.
The steel industry provided ca. 154,000 jobs in 2006. Employment is broken up into two major sectors: iron-steel mills and ferroalloy production, with 94,000 workers; and steel products from purchased steel, which employed 60,000 workers. The industry traditionally has been located in the eastern and Midwestern regions of the country, where the natural resources required are found. Even today, about 43 percent of steelworkers are employed in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. The growth of EAFs allowed steelmaking to spread to all parts of the country, although many firms find lower cost rural areas the most attractive. By a large margin, production, transportation, installation, maintenance and repair occupations make up the majority of jobs in steel mills. In addition, significant numbers of engineers and managers are needed to assist in the production process and repair of equipment. Job opportunities should be very good for engineers, plus skilled production and maintenance workers, despite a projected decline in employment during the 2006-2016 period.
Employment change and Industry earnings
Employment is expected to decrease 25 percent over the 2006-16 period, primarily due to increasing consolidation, improvements in productivity and strong foreign competition. Automation, computerization, and changes in business practices that have led to a leaner workforce have reduced the number of work hours needed to produce a ton of steel and raised productivity substantially in the last few decades. These productivity improvements, a leading cause of employment declines in the past, are not expected to be a major factor in the future, as companies have automated the process as much as they can. EAF mills, with their leaner workforce and lower cost structure, are expected to benefit from the industry’s transformation and will continue to gain market share. They now produce more than 50 percent of the country’s steel, up from 25 percent two decades ago. Earnings in the steel industry vary by type of production and occupation, but are higher than the average earnings in private industry as a whole. Average weekly earnings of non-supervisory production workers in 2006 were $1091 in iron and steel mills, and $775 in establishments making steel products from purchased steel, compared to $691 in all manufacturing and $568 throughout private industry.