Service Centers
Friday | 07 October, 2011 | 10:19 am

Cultural change

By Meghan Boyer

Younger workers have a different set of needs than older generations

October 2011—A family-owned company since its start in 1977, Westfield Steel Inc., Westfield, Ind., continues to grow to meet the needs of its customers. But with growth comes change and the need for more workers. Some of the changes Westfield Steel is implementing are intended to help the company attract and retain younger workers, says Fritz Prine, the company’s CFO. 

“It’s much more difficult to attract and retain quality in the generation that is in their 20s right now. They have a completely different set of expectations, capabilities, use of technology, value systems,” he says. “We’re trying to create more things that are attractive to that set of people because at the end of the day, you still need people to do the work.”

Finding qualified workers to hire has been a challenge for Westfield. Many students graduating from high school don’t want to work in a factory, says Ralph Mills, Westfield plant manager. Manufacturing can provide employees with good wages and steady employment. However, fewer young people can see this. 

“We don’t do enough of opening that horizon to people as a career path, perhaps in high school. Nor do we give them the skills to allow them to succeed,” Mills says, noting the hiring problem is industry-wide. “There’s a lot of people who can’t read a tape measure,” because they lack a base level of education, he says. 

For these reasons, many companies—including Westfield—are exploring more automated equipment that requires fewer workers to operate, says Mills. Computer systems that show workers exactly where to cut on a beam are more necessary now, whereas before workers would be able to work without such technology. Likewise, more machines have built-in troubleshooting capabilities because fewer workers are able to determine a problem and make repairs on their own, he says. 

Different needs
Skills-based training and education are not the only elements young manufacturing workers need. Younger workers also often need more coaching, encouragement and a sense of community. Social networking, blogs and eco-friendliness matter more to younger workers, says Prine. They want to be challenged and engaged. “Not everyone wants higher wages. Some people want to feel like they’re part of something,” he says. The challenge for many service centers is determining how to provide that and relate to the next generation of workers. 

“If you turn over an entire generation, you have to change the culture. It can’t stay the same,” says Prine. Working in a family business with his father, Prine sees himself as in-between generations in the metals industry. “I can recognize three or four different generations and try to figure out the best way to move the company forward. The way I’m moving it forward [in terms of] culture are things that I consider universal: accountability, quality and effort.”

Sometimes bridging the gap between generations means exploring new areas—or at least ones that are new to the metals industry. 

The metals industry largely does not participate in social networking or blogs, but they have great importance to young people, says Prine. However, the current benefits of using such online tools can be difficult to measure. 

A range of technology skills exists in the industry, and not everyone is computer-savvy, says Prine. “We have customers who don’t have email still” and rely on the fax machine, he says. “As an industry, as modern as we are, we’re still not [that modern],” so the business case for social media still needs to be made.  MM

Interested in purchasing reprints of this article? Click here


Current Issue


October 2014

Gearing up for 2015
Tackling foreign policies, regulations, trade balances and capital plans, here are forecasts for virtually everything.





Modern Metals on Twitter

White Papers

More White Papers >

Industry Partners

Alloy Bar Products

Custom Rubber Products

Metals Distribution

Service Centers

Sierra Alloys Royal Rubber Co. ThyssenKruppnMaterials NA Heidtman Steel Products


Cutting Software

Perforated & Expanded Metal

North American Steel Alliance
Channel Alloys SigmaTEK Systems McNichols Co. Reliance Steel & Aluminum Company


Cutting Systems

Plasma Technology

Thickness Gauges

Gerdau Messer Cutting Systems, Inc. ESAB Welding & Cutting Products Compusource Corporation




Enmark Systems, Inc.
Steelmax Hougen Manufacturing, Inc. Allor Manufacturing Inc.

Stainless Steel

CNC Cutting (Plasma, Waterjet, Laser, Router)

Financial Services

Artco Group Stainless Sales Corp.
Multicam Inc. BMO Harris Bank Churchill Steel Plate Ltd Straub Metal International

Coated Coil

GE Capital Finance Ranger Steel

Stainless, Nickel, Aluminum, Pipe, Tube & Bar

American Nickeloid Metals

Investment Banking

Precision Grinding

Prudential Stainless & Alloys, L.P.
Centria Coating Services Brown Gibbons Lang & Company Joco Precision Grinding


Metal Coaters

Laser Technology

Profiling Software


Coil Processing

AltaMAR, Inc. FastCam Pty Ltd. Central Steel Service, Inc.
Bradbury Group Amada America, Inc.

Rolled and Extruded Aluminum Products

Parker Steel Co.
Braner USA LVD Strippit Aleris Rolled Products SSAB
Burghardt + Schmidt GmbH Mitsubishi Laser-MC Machinery Systems, Inc.

Sawing Technology

Summit Steel Corporation
Butech Bliss

Machining Centers

Behringer Saws, Inc.

Steel Fabrication

Formtek-Maine Handtmann CNC Cosen International, Inc. Voortman Corporation
Herr-Voss Stamco

Material Handling

Cut Technologies Metal


IMS Systems, Inc. Canrack Metal Center Systems DoALL Sawing Products TSI Titanium
Leveltek Samuel Strapping Systems HE&M Saw


Machine Concepts Steel Storage Systems Inc. Kasto Carlson Tool & Manufacturing Corp.
Red Bud Industries The Caldwell Group, Inc. Metlsaw Systems

Tube & Pipe


Metal Alloy Analysis & Verification Independence Tube Corp.

Copper & Brass

Thermo Scientific Niton Analyzers Scotchman Industries, Inc. National Tube Supply Company
Christy Metals Inc.

Metal Finishing & Deburring

Wikus Saw Technology Specialty Pipe & Tube
Farmer's Copper Supermax Tools


Turnkey Finishing System












TECHNI Waterjet


twitter facebook linkedin rss