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Recruitment Strong for Metallurgical Engineers

Old metallurgists say it's time to pass the torch to the next generation. They say they are looking for keen problem solvers who can come up with better ways to make new products. Anyone able to do that should be facing a wonderful future.

It's a field most people don't think about when they consider an engineering career. Yet metallurgy has some hot opportunities. The demand for metallurgical engineers is increasing. Employers are looking for new blood.

"I would say the job market for metallurgists is wide open right now," says Bennie Ward. He's been a metallurgist for nearly 40 years. "There are new branches opening up in the field, and while there are a lot of experts in the old ways of doing things, we need people who can work in these new areas."

When Ward talks about new ways of doing things, he's not kidding. He's patented 19 of his "new ways" during his career. "And all of them are things that the textbooks said can't be done."

Metals of Invention

One of his inventions is a new way to create super-thin, super-strong aluminum that can be molded. It can be used in airplane construction.

"I varied the hot rolling temperature, working with a very fine grain size of metal. It created a super-plastic condition," Ward says. "This metal can be molded into the foredeck of an airplane -- all in one part. It used to take 10 parts to make a foredeck. Now it takes one."

This invention helps solve a problem for the airline industry. That is, a plane costs more to maintain than it does to build. Parts are constantly wearing out. Replacing 10 parts with one part means less maintenance, and cost.

"That's the kind of new approach I'm talking about," Ward says. "Anyone who can apply knowledge like this -- who can think on their feet, follow an idea through and prove it out -- is going to do very well in this industry."

Employers want young engineers with flexible attitudes and new ideas. Wages are good. The American Association of Engineering Societies has 25,000 metallurgical engineer members, and their average starting wage is $40,000.

That's confirmed by a large survey done by the Minerals, Metals and Materials Society. Its survey is on people with degrees in materials science and engineering. It found that about 1,100 people get degrees in this field every year, about 900 get master's degrees, and another 550 get PhDs. About one-third take a specialty in the metallurgical area.

The survey indicated the importance of advanced degrees. And after about 10 years in the field, those with higher degrees could be making $15,000 more than those with lesser degrees.

"We're trying to heavily promote the field," says Prof. Chester Van Tyne, of the Colorado School of Mines. "We have a higher than 95 percent placement, year in and year out. But we have to work very hard just to get those 1,000 grads a year. Most students are not aware of this field."

Van Tyne says many grads get more than one job offer, and he believes the opportunities are only going to increase over the next five years.

"It's a cyclical industry, but we have not been seeing a downturn in the demand for metallurgical engineers when times are tight," Van Tyne says. "We are noticing a redistribution -- a move into other industries, not just the metals industry."

The Growth of Materials Science

Other industries offering great job opportunities for metallurgical engineers include semiconductors, plastics, polymers, and optics and photonics.

"It boils down to this -- metal scientists are becoming materials scientists," says Van Tyne. "The traditional steel and metals industries have lots of jobs available, but so do the new industries, and they're looking for engineers with metallurgy...or material training."

Van Tyne says companies are recruiting students with four-year bachelor's degrees into production and production management jobs.

"Because of the broadness of the field, almost everyone can find their own little niche," Van Tyne says. "Everything from bookcases to computers to the components in your phone have been created by material engineers."

Dr. C. Ravindran of Ryerson Polytechnic University says people with four-year metallurgical degrees still have no trouble finding work. Employers are also interested in hiring people with master's degrees in the field.

"There are two aspects to metallurgy. There is process metallurgy, dealing with [the] extraction and processing of metals, and there is physical or mechanical metallurgy, dealing with the property of metals and their strengths," Ravindran says. "There are different courses for each of these aspects, so someone interested in getting into the field should research the kind of metallurgy they want to get involved in."

Many programs have been renamed to reflect the changing nature of the field -- they are now called materials engineering, not metallurgical engineering. People graduating from these programs could work in aerospace, automotive, chemical processing, electronic-photonics, plastics-ceramics, manufacturing, or consulting.

Great Job for Some

It's a great job for people who like math, science and solving problems. Mindy Siemens is a metallurgical engineer working at Reynolds Aluminum. She has a bachelor's degree in metallurgical engineering from Virginia Tech.

"I didn't have any trouble finding a job," says Siemens. "You have to really love math and science, especially physics, to like this work. If you have that, the next thing you have to work on is your self-confidence, your communication, and your people skills."

Being the only woman in a department of 30 to 40 engineers has forced Siemens to hone these non-technical skills. These are the skills that landed her a prestigious project, working with a team of metallurgists in Spain to develop a new metal alloy. Siemens says knowing foreign languages should also be on the list of skills needed by today's metallurgists.

Getting young metallurgists involved in these types of projects is a priority for Ward.

"The best way of learning is by doing -- and even though I could be doing these projects, it's the only way to go," says Ward. "It's time for the new generation to step in here and take the reins from us old guys. We want them to have our knowledge, but we also want them to add their fresh ideas to the mix."


Career Resource Center
Dedicated to materials science and engineering

American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers
Information about this institute, but it also has tons of links to other associations and related sites

Reynolds Metals Company
Parent company of the aluminum foil manufacturer

American Metallurgical Consultants
Find out about the work that metallurgical engineers do at this company Web site

Failure Analysis and Corrosion
Learn more about this key job duty

Manufacturing Jobs Listings
See what jobs are listed for metallurgical engineers

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