Scrap University is on a mission to empower the metal recycling industry through education
The scrap metal recycling industry needs an education. Depending on where you are, the terminology behind best practices and regular processes and, specifically, the names used for the hundreds of different types of metal which end up in the scrapyard, is inconsistent. If employees, management and owners at a scrapyard do not know every single material that is coming through their yard, if there is no consistency in terminology between yards, between sellers and buyers, everywhere, profitability simply cannot be maximized.
With these industry challenges in mind, Kate Fraser and Brad Rudover founded Scrap University in 2020 to empower the scrap metal recycling industry through education. Scrap University's initial certificate program is an online, video-based training "boot camp" where individuals learn first about the basics of the scrap industry, scrapyard operation and terminology, and then how to identify and upgrade all types of scrap metals quickly and easily. Upon completion of the course, students are designated as a Certified Scrap Metal Professional (CSMP).
Co-founders Fraser and Rudover, who met working at British Columbia's Richmond Steel Recycling in the mid-2010s, are personally familiar with every facet of the scrap metal business - from running a yard to brokering sales.
Rudover is currently a partner in Detroit Scrap Consulting Services Ltd., a brokerage in Vancouver, and is CARI's former Director of the Board representing the B.C. region. His family also owned Berrick Trading Corp., a scrapyard in Detroit, Michigan, which is where he literally grew up in the industry.
Fraser has worked in the scrap industry in B.C. for over 12 years, and has built up extensive experience and knowledge in logistics, dispatch, grading and pricing ferrous and non-ferrous material, and with all administrative, operations and management tasks required to run a scrapyard. After starting at ABC Recycling, Fraser went on to be the Operations Analyst for Richmond Steel Recycling (owned by Sims and Nucor).
"I worked with both the internal operations team and Sims national shredder/MRP (material requirements planning) teams at understanding the shredder and MRP processes," she recalls. "I can say with great pride that I understand the intricacies of running a shredder plant and can easily get swept up in conversations wherever anyone shows even a little interest. Eventually, my role grew to overseeing the entire facility. Working a 40-man crew to meet all operational needs was like completing a jigsaw puzzle each day, and was actually very rewarding."
Fraser says that from the early days of her career, she began to understand that the names for types of scrap material were far from consistent.
"At every yard, and even within one company, there are different names for the same material," says Fraser. "And when you go into the industry association sites, or are looking it up online, they all have different names. It's very ambiguous.
"We're building Scrap University to be an industry hub, a centre of learning, where you would go to get consistent information, all in one place, and to get your foundation on metals and scrapyard processes."
According to Rudover, even as someone who grew up in the industry, it was not easy to learn about all the different metals. "When you start looking throughout a whole organization, you find that almost everyone hardly knows anything about scrap metal. From the top to the bottom, the CEOs and GMs of the company, accounting, the documentation people, logistics people, the scale people, labourers and machine operators.
"It was so apparent to us that we had all of these different people who only know this bit and that bit of information. If every single person doesn't know scrap metal, you have to ask: what business are we in?
"No one else has taken on this sort of mission to really help formalize our industry terminology," continues Rudover. "You have all of these different people in the industry, but they are not speaking the same language. We're trying to unify the language and knowledge that serves as a foundation for the entire industry."
How Scrap University works
The Scrap University program is designed to benefit every person in a scrap recycling organization, from the buyers, drivers and labourers, to management and ownership. The program is designed for individuals, or can be used by companies for as many employees as they have who are interested in expanding their scrap recycling knowledge base.
Lessons are designed and delivered via video by scrap industry experts, with over 235 years of combined scrap knowledge and experience between all of the current Scrap U instructors. Rudover himself is the introductory instructor who runs new students through the basics of scrapyard operation and the basics of metals identification, such as the difference between ferrous and non-ferrous metals. After that, all of the CSMP training focuses on specific metals identification and upgrading.
"Everybody in the business should know what the difference between ferrous and non-ferrous is, and know the different categories of all of it, and what metal they are dealing with," says Fraser. "That's the foundation of everything."
Upon purchase, users are granted lifetime access to the CSMP certificate program. The course involves eight different modules covering 99 topics with each topic averaging about five minutes long. There is a total of 8.5 hours of video-based training, supplemented by text and images. A CSMP certificate is awarded after a final exam consisting of 120 questions.
"There's a lot of information to retain," says Rudover. "You can also download the textbooks and images so that you have them forever. You can use them in the yard as a resource to ID metals."
With so much information, and an aim to provide a lasting education for students, it has to be an extensive test. "Retention is our biggest thing," emphasizes Fraser. "You need to put that hour aside, sit down, and go through the test. It's a fairly simple test, but we need to know, to get a CSMP, that you've retained the information. Otherwise, it's meaningless."
Both Fraser and Rudover also note that their course is best combined with in-yard training, especially when it comes to identifying metals.
"In this business, you've got to learn all the different metals," says Rudover. "I feel like you have to physically handle a metal to really lock it in. We're not trying to downplay that side of the training. Our program for Scrap University goes hand in hand with existing training in place. Some companies may have a stronger training platform internally, so maybe their reliance on Scrap University will be a little bit less. Whereas, companies that don't have any type of training, their reliance will be much greater."
Fraser adds that though people often ask how long the program takes, going through it quickly is not the point or intention. "The best way to do it is to do the online training, combined with in-the-yard training on actual metals," she confirms. "If you want to, you can blow through it in a week. Are you going to retain that information? That's the question. In any learning environment, it's always good to have some practical application.
"The time it takes is really going to depend on the purpose for the training," she continues. "If you're using it to onboard a new employee, then you could actually have them do a section upfront and then go out into the yard to supplement. But if you are working with somebody who is in the office, and you just want them to have an understanding of the metal products you have, that person could go through it in a week. You don't have to be out there working in it, but it is always good to at least touch every metal, if possible. Then, when co-workers and people around you are talking about scrap metal, now you know what they're talking about. You know what your trade is."
According to Fraser, the program is also designed to be linear. Students first need to complete the program orientation, an introduction to scrap metal recycling, and then go through the other sections in segments, as presented. It also provides managers with a tool to analyze where an employee is at with knowledge and with the course overall. If an employee did not do well on one part of the course, management can see that clearly and work on it further if needed.
"I really think that the management tool is almost as valuable as the program," she continues. "Even for companies that already have training in place, this doesn't necessarily have to be a replacement. They can run people through the program to see where they're at."
Scrap University graduate Nick Snyder from United Metals Recycling, who completed his CSMP June 10 this year, commented, "I hope for a day where metal recycling is taught in universities across the nation."
Julian Samaniego from Merrillville Metal Recycling, another CSMP certified graduate who completed the program June 24, said, "I have a better understanding of ferrous and non-ferrous metals. I am looking forward to applying this knowledge every day at work."
According to Tracy Shaw, president & CEO of the Canadian Association of Recycling Industries, Scrap University fills an important role for the recycling industry. "Few people coming into our industry arrive with an understanding of scrap metal grades, and until now there were few options for formal training in scrap metal recycling. CSMP certification offers the foundational knowledge that those who have not grown up in the industry lack."
Giving back to the scrap industry
Giving back to the scrap recycling industry is a big part of the motivation behind Scrap University. Rudover and Fraser agree that the industry has given them both so much through their careers. Scrap U gives back by helping the industry not only learn to identify all metals, and know its trade, but it outlines in plain terms how to then make money with that knowledge.
"How you make money in the scrap business is through an upgrade," says Rudover. "You want to try and buy low, sell high, that's your practice. Let's say you buy a dirty stainless, and then mixed within that dump of dirty stainless is some clean stainless. Or you buy 304 stainless and there's some 316 stainless. That's an upgrade because the price gap between 304 and 316 right now is about 25 cents per pound.
"For the majority of the people in the scrap business, if you asked them how they make money, it is through upgrading. Every single one of our lessons (after the introductory modules) defines the metal and shows how to upgrade it."
He adds that if you don't know your metals in the scrap recycling business, if everyone at a company does not know, then profitability will be missed.
Catalytic converters are a great example.
Nearly 20 years ago, Rudover says he wrote a manual on catalytic converters because he was frustrated. He remembers walking into one warehouse with catalytic converters stockpiles and asked as a test: "What's that?" The response was that it was a "Cadillac converter."
"Nobody in the plant knew what it was exactly, but sure enough, some guy came and picked it up and gave us money for it," recalls Rudover. "That was the beginning of me taking an academic approach to catalytic converters, asking why wouldn't we all share our information?
He says if a scrap recycler makes mistakes identifying catalytic converters, there's potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake.
"For an aftermarket converter, the composition of its catalyst has hardly any platinum plating or rhodium. Whereas an OEM converter has huge levels. Typically you're paying $10 for an aftermarket converter, or maybe you're selling it for $15. But for a Honda converter, they are worth more like $300. So just make one mistake in differentiating between those two, and you just lost money."
Scrap University will address this costly knowledge deficit with a dedicated course on catalytic converters to be introduced by 2022.
On a smaller scale, not being able to identify metals can cost money at any scrapyard. Rudover continues, "You have no idea how many mistakes are made at the scale because those people are not educated on metals," he continues. He was recently at a shredder yard in Vancouver where a little bit of aluminum showed up on the scale. It looked extra shiny, and in the scale house they just called it steel and sent it through the shredder.
"I was waiting for that product on the non-ferrous side because of the value of it, but it went through the shredder. Is it going to shake out in the downstream and become Zorba? Sure. But its real value is lost.
"That level of training is just not there for the most part. Even owners don't always know what metals are coming into their yard," he says. "We found this gigantic hole or a void, and we're now bridging it with Scrap University."
This article was originally published in the July/August 2021 edition of Recycling Product News, Volume 29, Number 5.