When I was 16, just having left school, my aspiration was to have a nice, clean office-based job. And my goal was to be a manager.
Whilst studying at college I went to work with my Dad. On occasions he would take me to meet customers, and back in those days, you could get on sites and see things relatively freely.
Not knowing what laid ahead, I wasted this opportunity and didn’t take much interest. It is one of my biggest regrets today.
Fast forward 14 years, I had worked in banking, which supported me with raising a young child and now, more successfully, managing my late father’s business Trent Refractories.
This was meant to be a temporary measure and coming from a ‘different’ background, I had listened in meetings about our products and services, having no idea what people were saying. Words would crop up over and again but I had no idea what they meant, or why they were important.
In the steel industry it’s fair to say the terminology used has definitely stemmed from a male workforce – some of them I would never dream of writing here. I came to the decision I could no longer sit in a meeting and not know what people were talking about. Knowledge is power after all.
I found a short course run by Sheffield University on iron and steel making. I thought this would be a great start, to understand the terminology but also our customers’ processes.
After a week of learning that steel is not just steel, the lecturer arranged a visit to a local steelworks to see the process in the flesh.
Nothing could prepare me for what I saw, from putting on overalls that weigh a tonne, that even on a cold day would make you sweat, I wondered what exactly was I going to see? How hot was it going to get?
They took us through to the Electric Arc Furnace which was being charged. Three massive electrodes plunged into the furnace, banging and crashing as the scrap metal turned molten.
When the steel was ready the furnace, it was tipped and what appeared to be liquid fire flowed and sparked like a Volcano erupting – it was captivating. I was stood with a group on a viewing platform at least 150 yards away and I could feel the heat.
I was so annoyingly enthusiastic, that the chap took pity on me and invited me back. He showed me all their processes and where our products fit within them. Why they are important was self-explanatory in the large part, which was that they keep people safe, and if they fail, people die.
This time I was lucky and was able to get closer, much closer and I can honestly say I have never felt anything like it. Literally the heat could vaporise you if you or your team made a mistake. I actually melted my visor that day.
I finally got it. I understood why my father fell in love with it, and now, I had too. I wished I had listened to him back then but I try to learn harder now to make up.
I love to see what our customers do, and there is something about metal melting which I find fascinating. I get dirty and wear the most unflattering gear – a far cry from what I thought I would end up doing – but I guess I am a manager. I love my job and where it takes me.
About the author
Katy Moss is the managing director of Trent Refractories – a UK based manufacturer and supplier of bespoke refractory solutions, supplying the UK market and beyond.