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BURNS HARBOR — U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta toured ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor Tuesday, saying he hoped to preserve steelworker jobs.

Acosta touted the proposed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement as potentially benefiting domestic steel mills and a nationwide job skills training initiative. ArcelorMittal USA President and CEO John Brett pledged the steelmaker would offer skill training to 34,000 workers over the next five years.

ArcelorMittal USA only employs 18,000 workers nationwide, but company officials said that figure would include new hires welcomed into the fold to replace retiring workers in an established industry whose workforce consists largely of workers near retirement.

"We appreciate the administration's commitment to the future of our workforce. Ensuring we have qualified trained workers is one of the most important issues we contend with as a company and has an impact on the community," Brett said. "The job of steelworker is much different than it was over most of the last century. Therefore, training is a priority. Already, we have several successful programs in place to train our workers. Last year, our employees participated in more than 827,000 combined hours of training. Additionally, we invest in students, from middle to high school to college, to ensure there's a pipeline for tomorrow."

ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor General Manager John Mengel said the steel mill in Porter County was on the cutting edge of worker training, even using virtual reality headsets to train steelworkers, making it an appropriate site for such an announcement.

Chicago-based ArcelorMittal USA, which employs more than 10,000 workers in Northwest Indiana, pledged "to create enhanced career opportunities for 34,000 individuals through our workforce programs" over the next five years.

"We will continue to nurture and expand successful initiatives already in place while exploring new programs and partnerships," Brett said. "We look forward to working together to prepare the workforce of the future."

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Acosta said there more available jobs in the nation than there are qualified individuals to fill them, meaning job training was critical.

"We have 7.4 million open jobs," he said. "We have to find ways to provide Americans with the skills to get those jobs."

He said the administration hoped to sustain good-paying steelworking jobs.

"There are so many jobs in steel," he said. "These are good, family-sustaining jobs." 

The proposed new trade deal with Canada and Mexico would require that vehicles be made with 75% of North American content to be exported tariff-free, up from 62.5% in the North American Free Trade Agreement, which could help ensure automakers buy more American-made steel, Acosta said.

"That matters to steel," he said. "That means more steel from North America will be used by the automotive industry. About half the steel from this facility is used by autos. We want to see that increase."

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.