A Rapidly Changing Field
Today, steel industry employment undergoes rapid changes. The availability of jobs in this sector continues to fluctuate worldwide as a result of shifting manufacturing capacities.
Recently, an oversupply of Chinese steel coupled with the falling stock prices of several companies in the Peoples Republic of China resulted in job losses within the steel industry in places as far flung as Central Asia and South Africa.
Obviously, a brief article cannot possibly touch upon all of the elements at play in this complex situation. Yet important trends within the steel industry have emerged over the course of time. This legacy continues to impact steel workers.
The Rise of Steel in North America
The history of steel remains very interesting. Although people knew about this important alloy during the 1700s, for decades no one found a reliable way to produce large quantities of commercial-grade steel cost effectively. The invention of the Bessemer Converter during the 1850s created a revolution within the steel industry.
The United States enjoyed a number of advantages during that dynamic period. Coal mines in Ohio, Pennsylvania and other Eastern states fueled numerous steel mills. The plants received high quality raw materials from mines in the Upper Midwest. Ships crossed the Great Lakes carrying iron ore to Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and other ports for shipment by rail to plants clustered in the Ohio Valley. During the second half of the Nineteenth Century, industrial entrepreneurs such as Andrew Carnegie helped make Pennsylvania and Ohio centers of steel production.
At the turn of the century, Andrew Carnegie sold his company to a newly formed entity called U. S. Steel, which quickly became the largest steel producing firm in the world. The United States dominated global steel production during the first half of the 1900s. U.S. Steel, Bethlehem Steel and Republic Steel employed thousands of workers at production facilities through the post-World War II era.
The Rise of Asian Steel
After World War II, Japan’s steel industry modernized and grew more efficient. During the 1970s, U.S. firms suffered reductions. Bethlehem Steel went bankrupt in 2001, for instance. U. S. Steel continued in business, but fell behind many Asian-based steel manufacturers in output.
The Indian and Chinese steel industries expanded rapidly during the early Twenty-First Century. In 2006, Mittal Steel from India purchased Arcelor to form ArcelorMittal, a company that became one of the largest steel producers on Earth. China during Deng Xiaoping’s leadership underwent significant economic reforms that boosted its steel production capacity. Two companies, Hebei Iron & Steel Co. and Baoshan Iron & Steel Co. now reportedly generate 50% of Chinese steel.
Steel Industry Employment in 2015
Today, China leads the world in steel production. Steel remains important in Japan, the USA, India and elsewhere. A recent drop in the cost of steel imported from China reportedly caused the closure of two steel mills in South Africa this summer. China has recently curtailed production at some plants. Changes in steel production capacity impact steel industry employment globally.