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Youths find rubber industry appealing

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Joseph Scavuzzo, left, accepts a check from Brandon Borzi at the International Elastomer Conference
Photo by RPN photo by Alaina Scott Joseph Scavuzzo, left, accepts a check from Brandon Borzi at the International Elastomer Conference in October. Both have career aspirations in the rubber industry.

AKRON—The jobs are there, the salary's nice, the travel opportunities are plentiful, and most people who enter the rubber industry never leave it.

So why aren't more young people lining up to fill the vacancies?

"The question we've asked for years is how do we get more people to even know that there is a rubber industry to get into," said 28-year-old Brandon Borzi, senior tech service representative with Rhein Chemie Corp. "How do we tell the general public that this is a good career to get into? There's good money to be made."

According to William Stahl, chemist with Rainbow Master Mixing L.L.C., the rubber industry's average age is 58. Attracting young people to the industry is a concern. The industry also must overcome a persistent stereotype.

"There's interest within the rubber industry now more than ever, but there is still that stereotyping of factory work," Borzi said. "There's a lot of different things that you do in the industry. There's every project under the sun from gas and oil to aerospace and everything that goes into the military."

He said some students are drawn to the potential of a rubber industry career. Take him for example.

Borzi began his journey at Ferris State University as a plastics major, wound up with a degree in rubber and had internships with Lord Corp. and Federal-Mogul Corp.

He said the internships played a key role in guiding him away from plastics and into the rubber industry, and he secured a job with Goodyear right out of college.

Borzi isn't alone, Joseph Scavuzzo, a 27-year-old doctoral student at the University of Akron's Polymer Science department, said he didn't pick the rubber industry, but he discovered it through a project he worked on involving thermoplastic elastomers.

Timing is another obstacle the industry faces. While Scavuzzo prefers to secure a job within the industry, he—like most students—will take what is offered.

"Rubber would be my preference, but if I get a plastics job, I'll go for it," Scavuzzo said. "I understand rubber the best, so I'd be most comfortable there. But I could do anything."

Students seeking companies are only half the battle. Sometimes it helps when they know what exactly the firms are looking for, and it's not always just a "rubber guy."

"We're interested in people who can carry a project through to fruition," Chuck Yurkovich, vice president of global research and development with Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., said in a speech before the Tire Society last fall. "Very typically if you look at the big tire company, people are very compartmentalized. We tend to have people who wear a lot of hats and as a result can get things done much more quickly instead of having six handoffs throughout the process."

Yurkovich cited a situation in which Cooper brought in an expert who specialized in jet engine noise when the firm was dealing with European grade labeling and the new requirements regarding tire noise levels. He said someone from outside the industry who can interpret and analyze information can be trained to relate that information to tires.

The key is finding someone who has basic problem solving capabilities, a technical background and a willingness to learn.

"We don't necessarily need to hire people who have extensive tire experience to be effective in this industry," Yurkovich said. "The tire industry work force is shrinking. The people with experience are getting older, and the people coming into the industry are not as experienced overall. What we can do is hire people who have strong training in the fundamentals that we need and who have a good problem solving skill and approach in communication."