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KATV: Arkansas Northeastern College pushing to graduate more steel workers


The expansion of a steel mill in Osceola has prompted an ever-growing push to hire more qualified candidates.

Arkansas Northeastern College (ANC) partners with several corporations in the trade industry such as Big River Steel in hopes of graduating more students to enter the manufacturing field.

"You don't even need to have a bachelor's degree to get in the steel industry, you can do that with a degree two years or less," said ANC President James Shemwell.

Mississippi County serves as one of the leading counties for steel production in the U.S.
According to the American Steel and Iron Institute, the industry nationwide produced $520 billion in economic output and 2 million jobs in 2017.

The International Trade Administration reports U.S. steel production fell 33.3 percent to 1.8 million metric tons from 2.7 million metric tons from July to August 2019.

"The current demand for steel industry-related jobs is very high right now because of the location of Big River Steel and now the upcoming phase 2 expansion of Big River Steel," said Shemwell said.

Big River Steel's non-pollutant mill sits along the Mississippi River where barges float in providing materials used in shaping steel products.

Efforts are underway to increase Big River Steel's production capacity from 1.65 million tons to 3.3 million tons.

In October, Pennsylvania's United States Steel Corporation, announced a joint venture partnership with Big River Steel as an initial step toward fully-acquiring the company over the next four years.
The agreement permits U.S. Steel's 49.9 percent ownership of Big River Steel.

“Big River operates the most advanced, state-of-the-art and sustainable mill in North America, and our investment would ultimately strengthen our competitive positioning in highly strategic steel-end markets, creating an unmatched value proposition for our stakeholders," said U.S. Steel David B. Burritt in a release.

"We take used steel, old appliances, old cars, old integrated mills and run them through our mills," said Dave Daines, chief human capital officer for Big River Steel.

For 24 hours a day, massive machinery is partially-operated by the men and women in hard hats to turn scrap into coiled steel. Daines noted employees of Big River Steel are spending 12-hour days creating product that's shipped all around the globe.

"It's hard, it's long hours, it's demanding but it's very rewarding," Daines said.
A fourth of the 2,000 ANC students are enrolled in the Center for Allied Technology, which includes the steel-tech program.

In 2018, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the creation of the Steelmaking Academy, a partnership between ANC and SMS Group, a company that makes metal making equipment.

High school-aged students are afforded the opportunities to train up at ANC and potentially graduate with steel-tech certification at an accelerated pace.

Students in the steel-worker program are projected to receive yearly salaries equaling a little more than $93,000.


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