A Life in Steel


It’s rather strange how my career has been sampling various aspects of the steel industry, but never any other industry where a metallurgist could gave found a job. In hindsight this seems rather odd. It’s not that I directed all my efforts at finding a job in a steel-related industry, but somehow all the positive responses came from that direction.

First of all, you would have expected that if I took on a job as a researcher, then that would have been with the Laboratory for Non-Ferrous Metallurgy and Electrometallurgy where I did my thesis. In fact, professor Dilewijns took both metallurgy students from my year as researchers, and since there was no similar offer from professor Van Peteghem, I took what was on offer, which was the iron and steel making side of the business (as well as some physical metallurgy).

Once I came out of the army I’m sure I spread the net far and wide, in any possible direction where I could possibly land a job. As I’ve said elsewhere, I was utterly unsuccessful, and was very grateful that I was given a second stint at professor Dilewijns’ laboratory, which gave me the opportunity to find a job whilst being in a job.

During my time there I kept on the look-out for suitable job adverts, again not restricting myself to iron and steel. Still, in the end the one that came up was Iscor, which, needless to say, was again steel. Maybe being a researcher familiar with iron and steel gives you a leg up when discussing things during an interview, but that only helps to explain the outcome of the application round, not the initial direction of the application letters.

When leaving South Africa I had already started sending out application letters, using a helpful student directory that I had acquired beforehand. Again the same thing: many application letters to a wide variety of companies, but in the end of the three offers I had to choose from, two were in steel (Allied Steel &a Wire and British Steel Scunthorpe) and the third was partly related to the use of steel (Inco Alloys). The decision to choose AS&W was purely based on the salary offered, and not on whether it was a continuation of my life in steel.

Once I had to go on the next round of job applications, after my redundancy had been broached to me, the emphasis was probably more on the steel industry, although not completely so. But maybe my credentials and achievements in various aspects of steel making were by now weighing in heavier than other capabilities (such as auditing), and in the end my reacquaintance with British Steel, this time at their Tinplate R&D department in Port Talbot only confirmed the further embedding of my career in a steel environment.

Maybe if I had been more successful finding a Java programming job after my distance learning course with CompuTeach, things might have turned out differently. As it was, there I was trying to find a job with fairly lightweight qualifications in a post-dot com bubble job market, and making very little headway in doing so. Hence I took the life raft to Llanwern, and haven’t looked back since. Maybe if the need had come sooner I could have entered the IT market with more success at a later stage, but first of all my age could by then have counted against me, and secondly, maintaining an attractive pension package was sufficient enticement to stay for as long as I could.

Maybe previous experience really speaks louder than any other factors when you’re looking for another job. At the time I went through the various application rounds I was not aware that I was skewing the direction in which I was applying, but as time went on, a positive response in line with earlier jobs and experience seemed to become a given.

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