A recurring theme when talking to managers in the stainless steel business is the diminishing pool of young engineers willing to join the business. Stainless Steel World spoke to Alessandra Spaghetti, a chemical engineer from Sandvik, about how the industry can attract – and retain – the young visionary talent required to keep their businesses flourishing in the future.
^ As Global Product manager Alessandra utilises both her technical and administrative skills.
“My interest in the steel industry was initially sparked as a student at Politecnico di Milano (Italy), which has a strong focus on promoting metallurgy, corrosion and related career possibilities,” begins Alessandra. “Our Professors invited people from the engineering and process chemical industries to talk to our class. Events like this allow students to orient themselves to markets and industries; done objectively, its an important tool to reveal the possibilities available to graduates.”
Companies keen to attract talent need to undertake a range of initiatives, explains Alessandra. “I first heard of Sandvik at university, where I met men and women in the steel industry who explained what they did and why it was interesting to them. It was enormously helpful. It’s essential that companies promote not just themselves, but also the industry as a whole; students knowing nothing of the industry may think it’s dirty or boring. It’s also important to have representatives who are not yet at the top of their career. A young person will then feel a connection to them and believe that achieving a similar position is attainable. The experience must be relatable to give them the confidence to enter the field.”
So who makes the ideal company rep to promote the industry? “Someone who has worked for about ten to fifteen years is ideal. Don’t send the CEO; most students won’t be able to relate to them or feel that they can achieve the same success.”
Given the challenges of attracting young talent, I was curious as to how attractive the steel industry is to young people today.
“The industry is facing many challenges,” explains Alessandra.
“Fortunately, the steel industry is no longer just about production; it has broadened. Industry 4.0 is generating many activities and innovations along the value chain. There are a wealth of opportunities from the large producers who are highly visible, to the smaller suppliers who produce tubes or wire, as well as software developers, additive manufacturing, companies developing automation, etc. This variety makes it attractive to graduates.”
“Companies must identify what people are interested in doing within that range. The commercial side of the business requires in-depth knowledge of both the products and the markets. The technical side requires people interested in corrosion, R&D, and product development. When addressing an audience of students, you need to cover every type of interest they have. You must demonstrate that the industry is more diverse than people think. After nine years, I am still not bored; I meet customers, talk to our commercial team, and work with the technical people. There are always challenges to face.”
A key element when approaching young people today is to focus on diversity, explains Alessandra. “Road-shows and career days need to present a diverse face of the company, including men and women and people of different races, ages and seniority. Students need to be able to imagine themselves in the other person’s shoes. For instance, it was particularly useful for me to hear a woman speaking about the steel industry as it made me feel it could be a good career choice for me.”
Given how far the industry has evolved over the past few decades, is it still necessary to have events aimed at promoting the role of women in the industry?
“Attracting young people requires you to bridge the communication gap to create a synergy, which will increase their interest in the industry,” replies Alessandra. “This is certainly true for young women, who are interested to hear about the kinds of opportunities other women have enjoyed and their role in business.”
Alessandra is a Member of the Board of the European Chapter of the Association for Iron & Steel Technology (AIST). Based in the US, AIST is active all over the world and organises an annual European event. “In 2018, in Udine, we included a session on the topic ‘Women in Steel’ which included women from around the world, from Italy to Czech Republic, Sweden and even South Africa. They explained what it was like to work in the industry and related personal stories. It was a great experience and fitted nicely with the company’s activities in the Employer Branding program.”
Alessandra has participated in the Deploy your Talent program for the past three years. “The program started in France and has been adopted in other countries. Companies taking part send representatives to high schools, targeting students around the age of 16+. In some countries, it is still difficult for women to enter some careers such as engineering, so it’s important to tell them that they can make it. I visited schools, explained my background and how my parents supported my ambition, despite some people still telling me girls couldn’t be engineers.”
Companies and organisations looking to recruit visionaries need to focus on work-life balance for both women and men, Alessandra explains. “Ensuring your employees can build a career while enjoying a good quality of life means they will stay with the company, enjoy their work, and be motivated. Large companies such as Google and LinkedIn have been doing this for years.”
“It’s important to understand that the new generation doesn’t feel they belong to the 9-5 work culture, or that they should be bound to an office. New talent today work for targets, not per hour. This smart working approaching is possible for many more jobs than we think.” Alessandra enjoys a good work-life balance at Sandvik and believes it is essential that more companies embrace the smart work culture.
“I don’t feel bound to an office; I can work anywhere. I work for targets, not for hours; flexibility is very important! Sometimes this means working more hours, but in the end, it is more enjoyable and satisfying. While this approach may not work for everyone, it should be an option today.”
Alessandra is a chemical engineer who joined the internal sales team at Sandvik in 2010. She later moved into Field Sales and became Technical Market Engineer for Italy and the Mediterranean region. In 2015 Alessandra moved into Global Technical Marketing which required her to travel all over the world, visiting customers in SE Asia, the US and Europe. While in this role Alessandra studied for her Master of Business Administration and received her MBA in 2018. Today she is Global Product Manager, a role which allows her to use both her technical side and administrative (sales and marketing) skills. “It was my dream job as I use both my degree and my master. It allows me to put a lot of commitment and fun into the business.”