From The Editor

View from the Corner Offices: Millennials, Metals & Markets

Understanding the New Generation

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When I describe our industry to people my own age, they often stare at me with a quizzical, bored frown.

Most millennials, excluding engineers, are not excited by metallurgy or value-added services. They do not see the metals sector as “sexy,” “hip” or “cool.” Instead, most millennials are horrified by the prospect of commuting to conservative, antiquated companies located in industrial parks, away from urban centers. It is easy to dismiss this attitude as entitled or “so millennial,” but the stark reality is that companies in the metals sector, particularly service centers, need to lean on millennials to fill sales and marketing departments, managerial jobs, and in the not-so-distant future, executive-level positions. Section 232, Democrats, Republicans, freight costs and China should dominate our immediate focus, but also, we should be planning for the next 10 and 20 years of our organizations. This means understanding what motivates and drives millennials.

In preparation for this op-ed, I surveyed friends, colleagues, acquaintances and the random LinkedIn connection to delve into the criteria guiding millennials in their job searches. Interestingly, salary was not the primary motivator for respondents. Most respondents prized corporate culture and a company’s location over pay. This paradigmatic shift should influence  the way we hire and retain talent in the metals sector. Companies in the metals sector cannot compete with tech, financial services or information services companies for millennial hires on the attractiveness of their product or service. To compete for talent, we must enrich our corporate culture and begin developing a presence in metropolitan areas.

A strong company culture involves a collegial, team-motivated environment where management values an individual’s contribution and provides periodic feedback. Certain perks such as fully stocked break rooms, weekly happy hours and open space floor plans (goodbye to the cubicle!) will promote a culture of inclusivity and motivation. Our companies would be wise to follow in the steps of the Amazons and Googles by creating a progressive work environment with a relaxed managerial hierarchy. These minor deviations from current corporate structures will produce improved work product and talent retention.

Millennial talent gravitates towards urban centers for nightlife, culture and experiences. Naturally, they look locally for employment and are reluctant to commute to their offices; especially by car. To leverage this talent pool, companies in the metals sector should develop an urban presence by opening satellite offices in co-working spaces. With current business platforms, the sales office no longer needs to be physically connected to the warehouse or mill. Interactions can occur through video-based conferencing and cloud-based interfaces.

The millennial workforce has altered the way businesses in all industries operate. Companies in the metals sector must evolve with the times and understand their new generation of sales associates and purchasing managers to ensure that when 2030 or 2035 ushers out the old cadre of executives, a new crop is ready to take its place.

Colton Karpus, Esq., MBA is the CEO of Middlesex, N.J.-based Diamond Brite Metals LLC, a toll processor specializing in metal polishing.