At Arcelor Steel, whose business was mostly in Western Europe and Brazil, engineers and managers had a predilection for their company’s French roots, while in Brazil, employees spoke Portuguese with a few French and German phrases. Mittal Steel, meanwhile, had its biggest projects in India and Indonesia and was moving briskly into Eastern Europe. Mittal had already made English its lingua operandi, and no sooner was the merger announced than plans were under way to make English the company’s common language and to extend online and traditional classroom training to those who needed it.
"There was a need for global projects and collaboration between countries," says Vincent Maurin, e-academy lead at ArcelorMittal University. "This is difficult to manage if you ask French people to speak Portuguese or Italian people to speak Russian. So the best course to set people on is to learn English."
In January 2006, as Arcelor’s lawyers wrangled over whether the company could resist Mittal’s acquisition, Mittal was busy expanding its online English language program. By the time the deal was finalized that September, 800 employees globally had registered.
The merger created a company of 310,000 employees, but only 10 percent had worked the kind of white-collar jobs where communication across international borders was necessary to encourage innovation and collaboration and share best practices, Maurin says. Knowing English would also make it easier for employees to move within the company regardless of location and would aid in succession planning. The company says less than 15 percent of its employees are native English speakers.
In the two-plus years since the company hired Global English, a Brisbane, California-based online English training company, more than 6,000 employees have taken classes. In some locations where English instructors are easily hired, the company provides traditional classroom training, Maurin says. The online courses focus on developing an industry-specific business vocabulary and work on pronunciation, reading, writing and grammar. Global English provides a productivity toolbar for Internet browsers that gives people quick access to English resources.
This year, the company attempted to measure the effectiveness of the program. What it found was that 77 percent of the employees said they needed to speak English at least once a week to perform their job, but only 7 percent felt they had a sufficient grasp of the language. Almost all respondents said the Global English program was relevant to their job, and 89 percent have used what they’ve learned in their job to write and read documents and communicate via e-mail, on the phone and in person, Global English found in a survey.
Perhaps most important, the company says, is the value placed on learning English by CEO Lakshmi N. Mittal, who told employees in a written statement, "Our business long ago evolved from being local to being global. We need, therefore, a common language to help drive the business forward. Fluent command of English is indeed a priority, and it is a valued asset that may expand your career opportunities."
For its strides toward enhancing communication in its workforce, ArcelorMittal wins the 2008 Optimas Award for Global Outlook.
Based in Luxembourge, AcrelorMittal is the world's largest steel company with 310,000 employees in more than 60 countries, including steel plants in 26 countries. Born out of the 2006 acquisition of Arcelor Steel by Mittal Steel, the new company came to define the consolidation of the world steel industry. In 2007, the company had $105.2 billion in revenue,
ArcelorMittal is a global steel producer for major global industries, including automotive, construction, household appliances and packaging. The company hold sizable supplies of raw materials and operates extensive distribution networks. Its industrial presence i Europe, Asia, Africa and the U.S. gives the company exposure to major steel markets.
Workforce Management, March 26, 2007, p. 28 -- Subscribe Now!