How ironworkers can make a living in the new economy
A decade after the global financial crisis, ironworkers are starting to get a bit of a leg up.
They’re not getting rich on their own, but their employers are starting their own businesses and making money from it.
“The market is definitely starting to shift towards those who are able to make more money, because we have so many more of them,” says Chris Williams, who runs a company called Iron Man Iron Works in the NSW Hunter region.
His shop employs about 20 people and sells iron in the north-east.
“We’re seeing a lot more people getting into it as well,” he says.
The business is also seeing the start of a new generation of workers, which Mr Williams hopes will provide some protection for those in the iron industry who have suffered from the downturn.
“There’s a whole new generation that’s starting to take on this position,” he adds.
“They’ve got an interest in iron and it’s something they’re proud of.”
The industry’s future The boom in ironmaking has been fuelled by demand from the booming iron market, which is also fuelled by the changing global economy.
As demand for steel has fallen, the price of iron has also dropped, with the price falling for both iron and steel.
As a result, demand for the products has fallen as well, and iron is still a fairly expensive commodity, says Mr Williams.
He estimates that iron is being sold at a price of around $2 per tonne.
This is the price the industry has to pay to ship its products overseas, and he says ironworkers have to pay the shipping companies to do this.
“I’m a little worried about it,” he admits.
“That’s a big problem for the industry, because if you look at the iron we’ve made in the past 10 years, that’s actually more expensive than steel.”
So far, the industry is doing OK, but there is a lot of uncertainty around the future of the industry.
“What we do know is that we’ll be making iron for the next 50 to 100 years,” he said.
“Iron is a pretty stable product, so I think there’s a chance that the world will keep producing iron.”
The big question for the future, however, is whether the industry can stay viable and secure its future.
“If there’s ever a downturn in demand, that will certainly impact us,” Mr Williams says.
The rise of automation The rise of automated production means that there is no longer a need for skilled workers, and that is what is changing the industry’s business model. “
But I do know that if we’re able to maintain a competitive price, we’re quite likely to be around for a while.”
The rise of automation The rise of automated production means that there is no longer a need for skilled workers, and that is what is changing the industry’s business model.
For some, this is a good thing.
“You could argue that a lot less of the iron you are producing is being produced at home, because it’s cheaper to ship it overseas,” Mr Davis says.
However, he says there are other risks to the industry as well.
“In the old days, when ironworkers had to make the tools, the workers would have to take care of the tools themselves,” he explains.
“Now we have robots and machines that can make these tools themselves, and they are making them at home.”
But it is not all good news for ironworkers.
There are concerns that this automation could lead to a return to manual labour, and some say the robots could eventually replace the skilled workers.
“When you see the changes that have been made in automation over the last couple of years, you’ll see a lot that has to do with the human element,” says Mr Davis.
“It’s a huge shift in terms of the skills we need to be able to offer the industry.” “
So is this the future? “
It’s a huge shift in terms of the skills we need to be able to offer the industry.”
So is this the future?
Mr Williams isn’t sure.
“At the moment, we don’t know what the future holds,” he concedes.
“Is this the next golden age for the ironmaking industry?
“Right now, we can only really tell you what’s going on, because there’s so much uncertainty around it. “
We don’t really know what is going to happen.” “
Right now, we can only really tell you what’s going on, because there’s so much uncertainty around it.
We don’t really know what is going to happen.”
For more on ironmaking in Australia, pick up The Age magazine, The Age, online or download the print edition.