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Solving a global problem

Editorial | March 1, 2022 | By: Tim Goral

Back in January, we told you about the labor shortage affecting many American industries (page 22, Specialty Fabrics Review, January 2022). But even as more people get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy gains strength, labor shortages continue to perplex businesses not just in the U.S. but around the world.

How can the textiles industry attract new talent? One problem is that many people have the mistaken impression that textile factories are dirty, labor-intensive sweatshops. Obviously, the industry must find ways to change that perception. Toward that end, manufacturers and associations have been funding programs and scholarships to attract new talent.

For example, last year Amy Bircher, founder and CEO of MMI Textiles and newly elected IFAI board chair, donated more than $200,000 to the West Virginia University Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design (her alma mater) to provide fashion, dress and merchandising students with enhanced educational opportunities in textile science.

Glen Raven Inc., a global textile company based near Burlington, N.C., recently donated $250,000 to the NC State Wilson College of Textiles to support the college’s Textile Pioneer Scholarship Program as well as the Dean’s Textile Innovation Fund.

Gaston College in Belmont, N.C., was given $5.3 million by the Gaston County Board of Commissioners to build a new Fiber Innovation Center on campus. The FIC will be a resource of the Manufacturing & Textile Innovation Network to develop a regional workforce focused on advanced materials and textile testing development. 

The American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC) continues to offer scholarships and fellowship opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students in any textile-related discipline. 

And Bring Back the Trades, a not-for-profit organization, awards scholarships to qualified students and collaborates with educators, community leaders and trades businesses to change the perception of the trades within the educational system. 

These efforts and others are a positive first step to rebuilding a vital American workforce.

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