ArcelorMittal has expanded its Steelworker for the Future workforce training program into the Upper Ohio Valley region where the company plans to develop next-generation technicians, the company said March 15.

ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steel company, has partnered with Eastern Gateway Community College in Steubenville, Ohio, and West Virginia Northern Community College's Weirton, W.Va., campus to offer a two-year associate of applied science work-study program.

The company has a mill in Weirton, W.Va., and a coke plant in nearby Warren, Ohio.

The decision to expand the Steelworker for the Future program was driven by the anticipated need for skilled steel workers in the United States as older employees retire, said Mark Langbehn, the company's manager of hourly employee training.

The program combines four semesters of classroom learning with paid summer internships for qualified students at ArcelorMittal. Students who complete the program will be trained as electrical and mechanical technicians.

Graduates employed by ArcelorMittal have the potential to earn starting wages of $17.39 an hour, the company said.

Steelworker for the Future began in March 2008 when the company worked with Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario, to develop curriculum for the program. With support from the United Steelworkers union, the company expanded the program to Ivy Tech Community College and Prairie State Community College in northwest Indiana.

The company has since hired five students from the program at its Indiana operations.

The Ohio Valley region has a rich steel-producing history, but technological advancements combined with expected baby-boomer retirements has left a critical skills void in the area.

In the past, people could find jobs in the local mills without a high school diploma, much less a college degree, said Tracee Joltes, director of workforce training at Eastern Gateway in Steubenville. At that time, workers could begin as a laborer and advance within the company.

But now the mills are more automated and require more critical-thinking skills, Joltes said.

"As those requirements increase, the need for education increases," she said.

Part of the training effort involves changing perceptions of steel-making, including re-educating high-school counselors about the advantages of high-skilled manufacturing jobs, Joltes said.

"We've done a good job of sending all our kids to four-year colleges, and there's nobody in the trades," Joltes said. "Now the current workforce is leaving, and there's nobody to follow them."