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Forethought: The division of labor

Editorial | April 1, 2015 | By:

The recent “Manufacturing and Distribution Outlook” report from CliftonLarsonAllen LLP includes the results of a national survey of manufacturers about the goal of “continuous improvement” over the next 12 months. Forty percent listed cost reduction; 20 percent chose increasing capacity; 19 percent listed quality; followed by 8 percent for ontime delivery, 3 percent for inventory reduction, 2 percent for increased sales (!), and only 1 percent each for profitability, marketing, new technology and workforce development.

In the specialty fabrics industry, IFAI’s market research director Jeff Rasmussen presented a webinar on Mar. 18 that listed a different set of strategies for companies “adapting for success”: controlling costs, educating the workforce, educating customers, investing in new equipment, and targeting high-value markets. (His research was also reported in the February and March issues of the Review.) CLA’s “one percenters” are important strategies in the textile industry—and finding, training and keeping a skilled workforce is one of the most important.

Local, state and national efforts are being put in place to address this issue. Sometimes, though, it seems most of the focus is on the needs of industry, and not the equally important needs of that skilled workforce. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that more workers are quitting and making career moves; younger workers have a shorter tenure; Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) careers have the highest gains; and average salaries are increasing, although not equally across all career paths.

Some experts have posited that perhaps there isn’t so much a shortage of skilled workers as there is a shortage of workers who can immediately do exactly what a position requires. The need to invest in training workers may top the list, but the wages and benefits needed to attract and keep those employees should be an equally important part of these discussions.

Forty years ago, the minimum wage was raised to $2.10 an hour. I was in school in 1975, and don’t recall much about wage scales; I spent the summer down in Glencoe, Minn., working at the Green Giant plant as a cornhusker to raise money for college. (My chief recollection from that character-building experience, I admit, is a very healthy and lingering respect for creamed corn.)

Forty years ago, IFAI’s Wage & Benefit Study respondents reported that sewers made from $1.75–$5.00 an hour. Wages for installers ranged from $2.00 to $6.50 an hour. It’s not easy to find aggregate wage data specific to the specialty fabrics industry, but I’m hoping to be able to provide more coverage about workforce issues in the Review as we move further into 2015–2016. I welcome your comments on the subject—it’s time we had more Letters to the Editor in this magazine.

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