Andy Wants a Metallurgist


Roy Lobenhofer


Andy walked into Mr. T’s at precisely 7:30 AM. It had become somewhat of a tradition to meet his Uncle Joe on Saturday mornings. While the “official time” for them to get together was 8, the two had made it somewhat of a game to see who could get there first. This morning Andy looked around the diner to make sure he was first but was disappointed to see that his overweight uncle was already seated in a booth drinking coffee. Andy shook his head as he walked over to the booth and said with a grin, “If we’re going to meet at 7:30 why don’t we just say so.”


Uncle Joe looked up and chuckled, “Because I don’t want to get here before 7 in order to be first.”


Andy laughed as he sat down. “I suppose that’s fair but don’t be surprised if I get here first next week. How’s Aunt Ruth?


The smile on Uncle Joe’s face diminished a little as he said, “Her knee is still bugging her. I’m almost positive she’s going to need a replacement, but she’s not ready yet. Speaking of how people are, how about my sister and Jane. How are they doing?”


“Well, Mom is fine. Keeping busy as usual. Between church committees and volunteering at the library, she seems to be always on the go. As far as Jane goes, she’s getting better now that the morning sickness is not as bad. For a while there, I didn’t think she was ever going to leave the bathroom. They call it morning sickness, but she seems to have it all day, every day. I really felt sorry for her, but there really wasn’t much I could do. It’s really lucky she could work from home without getting grief from her boss. She loves her job and would have hated to lose it because of morning sickness.”


Uncle Joe leaned back and smiled. “You think you know how your life is going to change but I’ll tell you even though I was ready and eager for kids. When Jim was born I was stunned at how our lives changed. You know a lot of people talk about the big change when you get married, but I found that to be nothing as compared to what happen when the first kid was born.”


As Uncle Joe was finishing, Tina their usual Saturday morning waitress came up to the table. She refilled Uncle Joe’s cup and glanced at Andy with a questioning look. Andy nodded and she filled a cup for him and then said, “Before you guys go about making the perfect foundry are you going to order?”


Uncle Joe picked up the menu and looked longingly for a few seconds and then said, “Two poached eggs and some wheat toast.”


Tina chuckled as she said, “Got it, you’re on the diet again, huh?” Then she looked at Andy and said, “How about you, Skinny?”


Andy smiled back. “Well, as long as I’m so skinny I’ll do a stack of pancakes with some bacon.”


Uncle Joe winked at Tina and then looked at Andy. “You better remember that Jane is the one eating for two, not you. If you don’t watch out you’ll be as fat as your Uncle.”


Tina left and Andy responded, “With the way Jane’s eating she’s not eating enough for one much less two. Hopefully with the morning sickness lessening that won’t be problem much longer.”


Uncle Joe took a sip of coffee and leaned back. “So, how’d things go this week?”


Andy smiled and leaned forward, “You know it was really a pretty good week. We’re really starting to see results from your suggestions.”


Uncle Joe frowned, “No, you’re not seeing results from my suggestions; you’re starting to see results from the actions you took. Ideas are a dime a dozen. It’s only actions that accomplish anything.”


Andy shook his head. “Okay, my actions on your ideas are starting to show some real positive results. In fact things are going so well that I’ve been thinking it might be time to add a metallurgist to the staff. After all I can’t depend on you for the rest of my life to bail me out of my metallurgy problems.”


Uncle Joe grinned broadly and nodded his head. “Great, that’s some good thinking. I wish I could get some of the foundries that pay me to realize I’m not going to be around forever. They keep on talking about doing something like that but it never seems to get past the talk stage. What’s your plan?”


“Well, I don’t think we can really afford an experienced person yet. So, I thought I’d check on some of the graduates at State. They are said to have a good metallurgy program and we could get someone fresh out of college a lot cheaper than a pro. What have you heard about the program at State?”


Uncle Joe responded in a rather monotone voice. “It’s my understanding they have two mandatory foundry courses for their metallurgy majors and they have a number of foundry related optional courses as well: however, I don’t know how frequently they are really offered.”


Andy looked quizzical. “You don’t sound all that impressed with State, is there some other place we should look?”


Uncle Joe took a sip of coffee and seemed to study the cup for a long time before responding. “What about someone you’ve already hired? You’ve told me you got some really good people on your staff.”


Andy looked surprised. “We do, but they don’t have degrees in metallurgy and they really don’t know that much about foundry operations and less about iron metallurgy. Since you have a degree, I’d have thought you’d think it was essential.”


Uncle Joe continued to look rather glum before he spoke. “You know it’s been a long, long time since I came out of college and things are a lot different now than back then, but one of the things that hasn’t changed is how little newly graduated metallurgists know about foundries or iron metallurgy. I sometimes wonder how long it took for me to really be of value when I started.”


Andy was starting to get a little agitated as he challenged, “Are you saying the colleges and universities are doing a cruddy job of preparing the kids to be foundry metallurgists?”


Uncle Joe shook his head. “The job of the colleges and universities are not to make foundry metallurgists. Do you know what percent of my graduating metallurgy class worked in foundries, much less iron foundries?”


Andy stopped and thought for a moment, “Well, most likely about 25%.”


Uncle Joe laughed out loud. “Just a little off. The real answer was 5%.”


Andy looked puzzled. “Wait a minute, didn't you say there were only 20 guys in your metallurgy class?”


Uncle Joe's smile continued. “You remembered and can do math. Congratulations! Yes I was the only one in my class who ended up in foundries. One of my class mates went into research. Some went to steel mills. I think one went into powder metallurgy. A couple went into non-ferrous. There might have even been one that went into mining.”


Andy looked surprised. “I'd never thought about the variations of metallurgy. I suppose there are a zillion directions you could go once you graduated.”


“Well, I don't know about a zillion, but it certainly explains why colleges and universities don't graduate experts in foundries. How can any place prepare experts in so many fields when the students they’re preparing don't even know what field they're going to be working in?”


With that Tina came with their food and the two men attacked it with the vigor expected of hungry men. It didn't take long, especially for Uncle Joe, for the food to be eaten.


Uncle Joe sat back and said, “That was a lot of nothing. I think I'm hungrier now than before I ate.”


Andy grinned. “Oh come on, it's not that bad.”


“It's not that bad for you with your stack of pancakes. For me it's bad.”


 “Let's get your mind off food and back to my metallurgist. I think what you're saying is that if I want a metallurgist who will be of value, I can either come up with the money to pay for experience or I can get a young graduate and train him.”


A small grin crept on Uncle Joe's face. “And once you get him trained, it's likely some other foundry will poach him.”


Andy threw up his hands and looked exasperated. “Great! I hadn't thought about that, but it makes sense. If I'm looking for experience so is everyone else.”


The little grin stayed on Uncle Joe's face, “There’s the other alternative I mentioned if you're willing to think outside the box.”


“Tell me more.”


“You could train your own metallurgist. Some of the best metallurgists I've known didn't have degrees in metallurgy.”


Andy looked shocked. “What do you mean metallurgists without degrees in metallurgy? How can that happen?”


Uncle Joe shrugged. “It's not like metallurgists are licensed. Metallurgy was never a real popular field a study and now many schools have switched to material science studies instead of simply metallurgy, expanding the area of study and reducing the amount of time spent on metallurgy. When I started in the field some of the metallurgists knew had degrees in chemistry, others were mechanical engineers, but most were not degreed at all.


“But how did they learn enough to be metallurgists?”


Again, Uncle Joe shrugged. “The same way I did: listening to people, reading articles, asking questions and doing the stuff you do when you're trying to learn something you're interested in. I'll tell you it's a lot easier now than when I did it. With the internet, what AFS does now, and the relative ease of travel now as compared to then. Of course, that may be an old man looking back and walking uphill to and from school in the snow every day.”


Andy was quiet for a while. He sipped his coffee, signaled Tina for a refill, stared at the cup for a few moments, nodded and took another sip of the coffee. “I can see how that can all happen, but once he's trained, what's to stop someone else from poaching him from us?”


Uncle Joe smiled broadly. “Not one thing! Just as there are no guarantees that some other foundry won't poach any of your other employees. That being said, if you take the time and spend the effort to get him trained, do you really think he'd be easily poached. Another thing to keep in mind, when you started thinking about hiring a metallurgist, what were you looking for? You were thinking about degreed metallurgists. Not having a degree would make your person less of a target for poaching than the young graduate you might have spent the time to train.”


Uncle Joe sat back, picked up his coffee cup, took a swallow, looked very serious and said, “By the way, hasn't your degree in foundry management really been indispensable in running the foundry? Oh, I forgot. Your degree was in art history, wasn't it?”


Andy laughed. “You know my degree was in history not art history, but I see your point. The degree doesn't define the man.”


Uncle Joe joined in the laughing, “Come on, catch up with the times: or woman.”


They continued to laugh for a few moments and then Andy got serious again. “If I go that way, how am I going pick out who to train?”


Uncle Joe continued to smile. “When you start thinking of who to train instead of looking outside, I'll bet the choice will be pretty easy. I'll tell you one thing. I always found it easier to identify talent within an operation than from interviewing people from the outside. As a matter of fact, my record was absolutely terrible in identifying talent when interviewing. Conversely, I was pretty good at recognizing talent when I worked with it for a while.”


With that Tina put down the checks on the table and Andy quickly grabbed them. He looked up her and said, “The old guy gave me something to think about this morning, I guess I should pay for his breakfast.”


Tina ran her hand through her bleached blond hair, winked and said, “Two eggs, toast and coffee. For a big spender like you, he must have either come up with the winning lottery numbers or the way to achieve world peace!”


Uncle Joe laughed heartily. “I guess you got told!”


Andy, too, was laughing and said loud enough to make sure Tina heard, “I hear big spenders are lousy tippers.”


Not to be outdone, Tina again winked and said, “I heard that’s not true about skinny ones.” With a flip of her hair walked away.


Uncle Joe continued to smile and added, “Making your own metallurgist isn’t going to be something that happens overnight. With a very good candidate, I’d say it’ll be something like five years before you’ll think of him or her as a metallurgist. The important thing will be to start out with a plan and keep track of the plan as you progress. It’s so easy to get tied up in the day to day crises that long term projects like this drift into oblivion.


Andy nodded. “Yeah, I can see how that would easily happen and it wouldn’t just be my fault. As the metallurgist to-be got more and more involved, they’d find it more difficult to find the time for continued training.” There was a pause and nothing was said for a few moments before Andy continued. “I can see where having whoever I choose involved in the planning of the training might be a real asset. If they know what’s coming and were part of deciding what’s coming, I can’t see anyone poaching them away from us.”


Uncle Joe nodded. “Neither can I. Now all you have to do is decide what your metallurgist needs to know and how you can get them to that point.”


The smile went from Andy’s face. “How am I going to do that?”


Uncle Joe smiled and shook his head, “You’re not. You and your metallurgist to-be will. Look at the AFS brochures. See what courses they have that will help. There might be courses at the junior college to help. Of course, after the wanna-be gets some experience the AFS committees are great places to build a network of support. Remember the plan isn’t written in stone. Set up a schedule to review the plan every six months. Is the plan going as scheduled? Does the plan need to be revised?”


Uncle Joe looked at Andy who seemed deep in thought and then continued. “Now your Aunt Ruth has plans for me today and I’d better make sure I don’t delay them. Happy wife – happy life!”


Uncle Joe put on his jacket and look back at the still seated Andy. “See you next week. Have fun!”


Return to Foundry Essays Page