An academic approach

Features - Professional Development

Scrap University launched to provide the industry with consistent education on metals classification.

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June 7, 2021

© Matthew Benoit / stock.adobe.com

Scrap recycling is not something that is taught in school, and no major university offers a major in scrap processing and trading. Many industry professionals either grew up in the industry or learned on the job.

Brad Rudover, a partner in Detroit Scrap Consulting Services Ltd. in Vancouver, grew up in the industry. His family owned Berrick Trading Corp., a scrap yard in Detroit.

“I spent a great deal of time there but was never paid. [My] dad would teach me stuff, but he couldn’t explain to me the difference between No. 1 and No. 2, honey and ebony,” Rudover says. “So, I kind of went through my whole life having to learn on my own.”

On the other hand, Kate Fraser entered the scrap industry when she went to work for ABC Recycling, which has locations in British Columbia, as an office administrator. She knew nothing about the industry.

“I started in the industry trying to put together a new ERP (enterprise resource planning) system for the company, and I recognized quickly, ‘How do I get training?’ There was no training,” she says. “I was bugging the CEO or someone else on, ‘What’s this?’ And you would get different answers for similar things. It was frustrating and confusing.”

Rudover and Fraser got to know each other when they worked for British Columbia’s Richmond Steel Recycling in the mid-2010s. Rudover was the company’s nonferrous manager, and Fraser was an operations analyst and facility manager. Both recognized that scrap recyclers had different answers for how to classify different commodities.

“We recognized that there was nowhere to reach out,” Fraser says regarding training on metals identification. “I would go to ISRI’s website and its specification document, but that didn’t help to train guys working in the yard.”

In 2020, Rudover decided it would be a good idea to partner with Fraser to provide a training tool that scrap processors could use to consistently train employees to classify commodities. Rudover and Fraser had moved on from Richmond Steel Recycling at that time and were working for different companies, but both agreed it would be a good time to develop a resource that could be used by processors to train everyone from laborers to managers.

“I had been kicking around the idea for a couple years, and back in February of last year, I reached out to Kate since she had scrap knowledge and the right mix of skills to get the project off the ground,” Rudover adds. “As the pandemic hit, it allowed us to focus on building the course and block out everything else.”

By fall of 2020, they launched Scrap University as a resource for processors to educate their employees virtually.

Developing a course

Rudover and Fraser say they spent the majority of 2020 filming educational videos for Scrap University at Rypac Metal Recycling in Surrey, British Columbia.

“My mentor, friend and Scrap University Professor Craig Merritt allowed us to film at his yard,” Rudover says. “He has been an advocate for Scrap University from the beginning. We would go to the yard three to four times a week and shoot video to create the course.”

To date, Scrap University offers one program, the Certified Scrap Metal Professional (CSMP), which consists of multiple courses.

The program’s first course is a scrap yard orientation that reviews ferrous and nonferrous metals; operations basics, such as units of measure, scale types and weights, personal protective equipment, unloading, forklifts and material handlers; and basics on scale tickets, weight deductions, purchase prices and types of software used in the industry. After the orientation, the program walks students through identifying specific metal commodities: tin, heavy melting steel, cast iron, busheling, manganese, 6061 aluminum, zorba, twitch, honey, ebony, 2205 stainless and many more.

Fraser says each course feature videos to showcase materials in an actual scrap yard, text that describes the commodity and the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries’ (ISRI’s) actual code for that particular commodity. She says she hopes the course can help connect the dots between the formalized ISRI codes and street terms used for different commodities.

“When you’re exporting something, you often use the ISRI code. But when you’re in the yard, nobody knows what ‘tutu’ is, for example,” she says. “So, in our program, we try to break down both sides. We want to pay respect to ISRI for creating the terms like ‘darth’ or ‘vader.’ Most guys in the scrap yard or bringing scrap don’t use the term ‘darth,’ but if you say, ‘ballasts,’ then that’s ‘darth,’ and if you say, ‘sealed units,’ then that’s ‘vader.’”

Rudover and Fraser aren’t the only instructors providing education through the platform. Rudover says Scrap University has other “professors” from the industry who share their insights.

He says Jennifer Betts of Argus Media, headquartered in London, teaches some segments on ferrous scrap, and Nick Snyder of United Metals Recycling, Caldwell, Idaho, teaches segments on brass and copper scrap.

Betts, who is vice president of business development for the Metals division at Argus Media, got her start in the scrap industry 15 years ago at David J. Joseph Co., Cincinnati. She says she did business with Rudover in the past and was excited to provide her knowledge on the industry for training purposes.

“A course does not exist on the industry—you basically have to work at a yard or trading company and learn from your colleagues. There’s not a course anywhere for you to learn how to … identify scrap,” Betts says.

She continues, “I thought this idea was really interesting. I think it would be great for educating the next generation or new employees.”

As a professor, Betts helped make several ferrous scrap educational videos and put together documents and worksheets for the course.

Educating employees

Since it launched last year, several scrap processors have enrolled employees in Scrap University.

Chad Sutter, owner of Sutter Metals in Tacoma, Washington, says he began using Scrap University as part of his onboarding process for new employees earlier this year. The company operates a scrap yard and two feeder yards in the Puget Sound area with a team of 55 employees.

Sutter says hiring and training has been challenging in recent years. He says it’s not always possible to hire people with scrap industry experience, so he wants to use Scrap University to help new hires from outside the industry learn more quickly.

“Particularly in our region, the Pacific Northwest, getting people to work in our yards or warehouse given the climate up here is challenging,” Sutter says. “It’s not like California—sunny and 70 degrees 300 days a year. Up here, it’s a big deal to have somebody have a potential yard position or warehouse position where weather might be inclement 160 days out of the year. Our applicant pool dramatically shrinks. To keep the facility running, onboarding is a huge part of what we are doing with staff.

He continues, “If you walk to a scrap yard day one and don’t know a lick of what you’re doing, you spend two to three months job shadowing before you can get to sort and make mill spec packages. [The course] helps with quality concerns. I’m not saying employees won’t need to job shadow, but it has cost benefits to us, cutting down training time by two-thirds.”

Sutter adds that Scrap University’s course also has served as a refresher for him and his more tenured employees.

Fraser adds that Scrap University’s CSMP program “is meant for everybody” within the scrap industry.

“We had a fellow reach out who owns a business, and he doesn’t have time to train his people,” she says. “It’s a small business. He wanted to go through [the program] because he stumbled into the scrap business. He’s making money, but he recognized he’s not making all he could because he doesn’t know all the metals classifications. He took [the course] himself. Now, he can have staff trained as well, and he can delegate with confidence.”

Looking ahead, Rudover says he hopes to develop more programs and courses for Scrap University. He’d also like industry associations, such as the Canadian Association of Recycling Industries or ISRI, to offer the program to members.

His overall goal, though, is for the industry to have a formal credential for scrap recycling knowledge.

Rudover says many industries have certifications or licenses, such as certified public accountant, and others have formal college programs that result in degrees. “The scrap business is one of the only businesses that doesn’t have a degree,” he says.

“Our program has now created that ‘something’ where [at] the backside of your title or the end of your name, you can put ‘CSMP.’ We’ve raised the bar in the industry by providing this information. You’ll be more educated, more diligent and more efficient,” he continues.

“We’re now starting to see CSMP in some of our graduates’ signatures.”

The author is managing editor of Recycling Today and can be reached at msmalley@gie.net.