Nucor Vulcraft-SC Drafting Supervisor Mark Jones likes the combination of technical skills and behavioral attributes he sees among the technicians graduating from his alma mater, Florence-Darlington Technical College (FDTC).
His department just made full-time job offers to two of the four FDTC students who interned in the Drafting Department at Nucor Corporation's Florence, South Carolina, facility this spring.
Jones, who earned a civil engineering technology associate degree from FDTC in 1996, and this spring's Nucor interns were all taught with the problem-based curriculum that the South Carolina Advanced Technological Education Center (SC ATE) at FDTC refined and disseminated with support from National Science Foundation's Advanced Technological Education program. SC ATE's curriculum uses a just-in-time format that blends academic core courses and hands-on technical skills with instruction about self-management and teamwork that many employers call soft skills.
"When we hire those students coming out of Tech, with two-year associate degrees, they have a really great foundation to start building on. It really shows through," Jones said.
Nucor hired Jones as a detailer in the Drafting Department shortly after he graduated from FDTC in 1996. He was promoted to the department's management in 2008. He currently supervises a team of 30 detailers who complete computer-aided designs for projects that utilize the open-web steel joists and girders, and steel decking the company makes.
For the past several years Jones has gone to FDTC each autumn to begin the search for strong candidates for the paid internships that Nucor offers students during the final semester of their associate degree programs. Jones' recruitment and general promotion of STEM careers puts him in high school and college classrooms throughout the region.
Employer Summarizes Essential Skills for Technicians
"We're always looking for new talent to keep our team fresh, up to the challenges we work on," he said.
Whenever he talks to students Jones emphasizes the two factors Nucor seeks in technicians.
"You've got to have the technical ability—math skills, being able to see three-dimensional objects in your mind, being able to get it [a design] on paper.
"The second part of that is the cultural side, the behavioral side. You know you can be the best detailer that ever walked in the door, but if you don't have the cultural side—just being part of the team—then it's not a good fit. So we really look for those candidates that have both of those qualities," he said.
Anna Kolliopoulos, assistant director and industry liaison for SC ATE, praises Jones not only for seeking talent among FDTC technical students, but for cultivating it. "He is such a great mentor and a true professional," she said, calling his mentoring "truly amazing."
Jones is a member of the Florence-Darlington Technical College (FDTC) SC ATE Industry Consortium. She explains that through the industry consortium, FDTC and participating employers prepare students for rewarding careers as highly skilled technicians through a cooperative arrangement that combines classroom theory with practical, on-the-job experiences.
Leadership Development Begins Early
In addition to making sure interns get the identical training that other new Nucor employees receive, Jones makes sure interns in his department have substantial work experiences—not just running blueprints. He also meets with them regularly to discuss safety and the values Nucor emphasizes such as leadership and teamwork.
This spring he led discussions with the interns about Plain Talk, the book by Ken Iverson, who led Nucor from 1965 to 1995. Continuous improvement is part of Nucor's culture. So Jones meets with each intern to write personal and professional goals, to identify the measures they need to put in place to attain their goals, and to set dates to accomplish those tasks.
"Ultimately we want to see everybody succeed," he said.
So the two interns who were not offered jobs, continue to receive his encouragement. "They still succeeded in a lot of ways. They had a great internship. They got some experience behind them. I think it will look awesome on a resume that they had an internship here. And you never know. I tell them to keep an eye out for [Nucor] job postings," he said.
Dean Mann and Andrew P. James, who will begin full-time work at Nucor after they receive their associate degrees in electronics engineering from FDTC this month, are nearly able to do production work. "I tell those guys, 'You are leaders even though you are just starting in our department. People look up to you'," Jones said.
"I really see a lot of good qualities in these guys and even looking down the road, you know, leadership qualities. A lot of that is within in you, you know the inner-born leader, but sometimes I think that doesn't necessarily come out unless you get the right training, the right schooling, the right coaching. I see a lot of potential in these guys, and I know a lot of it is based on their education," Jones said.
Obviously, to Jones, leadership is not limited to supervisors and other managers. "I really coach our teammates here to be leaders regardless of whatever position you hold," he added.
He is also explicit about doing his part for Nucor's future success. "I tell people I'm looking for someone to replace me; someone to step into my position if I move on. You have to do that when you are searching for new talent," Jones said.
His expectations for employees is similarly clear: "You always want to put your best foot forward and let people know what you are capable of doing."