Who said engineering was only for men? Meet the first female engineer to work at POSCO’s blast furnace facilities, Jooyoung Cha. She works in the iron-making department and is paving the way for women engineers in an industry that is heavily dominated by men. We spoke to Jooyoung about how she fell into engineering and what her day-to-day is like!
What does the iron making department do? Walk us through the role of manager!
The Iron making department is the core area of the first steelmaking process. The process of solidifying iron and coal is called sintering and coking, respectively. The pretreated iron and coal are stacked into layers in a 100m tall blast furnace. Then hot air at 1,200 degrees Celsius is blown into the furnace, causing the coal to burn which melts iron ore into molten iron.
I am currently working as an engineer for furnace 4. The furnace is the pressure vessel with high temperature and high pressure conditions. Therefore, it is usually not feasible to actually see the inside of the vessel. Therefore, it requires us to monitor the situation of inside the furnace through information obtained by numerous estimators and cameras. I am responsible for accurately determining the inside situation of the furnace and also optimizing the work efficiency so that the iron ore is produced and the related facilities are well operated. It sounds a bit difficult, right? To simplify, it is like putting the pieces of a puzzle together to create a beautiful drawing.
Pictured here: Jooyoung Cha at Pohang Works
What is the secret behind POSCO’s world-best iron-making department?
Pictured here: Jooyoung Cha working on site
I am more than confident to say that the iron ore making technology of POSCO is the best in the world. When POSCO established the steel mill on the wasteland in 1970 for the first time, they benchmarked facilities and technologies in Japan. However, the situation is different now. In the iron making field, a well-known steel making company named NSSMC in Japan tried to learn our outstanding technology.
In addition, many of former colleagues are currently serving as a consultant in foreign countries as more and more foreign entities are interested in recruiting them as technical advisors. Seeing the history of such outstanding technology, people at POSCO are not afraid of failure while pursuing something challenging or seeking creative solutions. We place priority on the ‘field’ and ‘performance,’ and are committed to improving the performance through cooperation. This is how POSCO became the top global leader in the field with the best technology.
Pictured here: Jooyoung Cha in her protective suit on site
Apparently I am the first female to work in Korea’s 1st blast furnace in Pohang which started operating in 1973. Working as a female worker in a male dominated industry poses a challenge but is also exciting. My male colleagues have given me the nickname “Joan of Arc” after seeing me navigate the huge facilities. I was also given the nickname “Thatcher” after the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher. Quiet amusing, right? Pursuing a career where there are still few women is challenging, but I hope that I can inspire other young women to not be afraid and pursue challenges too
What are the core capabilities of the iron making department?
This is one of the questions I am asked the most. Every time I am asked the same question, I would compare it with caring for a baby. The iron making department is where we must manage and operate the blast furnace. The furnace can be comparable to a baby that requires care of parents at all times. This applies to furnaces as well. Employees at the iron making department take care of it to produce high quality materials by adding high quality iron ore or coke. Those working at the iron making department should be capable of accurately determining the situation and making decisions. Lastly, the work here requires a team effort rather than individual work. Therefore, interpersonal relationships and communication is crucial.
Pictured here: Jooyoung Cha during work hours
When I first started working in the iron department, I had to stay awake for several nights because I need to figure out the problem source for poor gas flow of iron ore inside of the furnace. I realized that experience was very important. I was lucky to have experienced colleagues help me navigate the situation. I am now much more experienced in the field so that I can now help younger members of our team.
Tell us about your future aspirations. Any advice for those preparing to work in your field of work?
One word of advice I still keep close to me is: “We are workers. Facilities live with our sweat and effort.” My dream is to be a true worker. As a specialist in the field of iron making, I would like to have the ability to pay attention to details but also see the big picture. I hope that I can be a good mentor for those who are considering a career in engineering in the steel industry. Many assume that getting hired is the end to worries, but actually that is just the beginning!
For all the women who may be hesitant to pursue a male dominated career, we hope this Q&A session with POSCO’s Jooyoung was inspiring.