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From Home Furnishing Business

AHFA’s Solution Partners to Start Jobs Initiative

The Solution Partners division of the American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA) will kick off an industry-wide jobs initiative this fall.

The campaign to fill immediate skilled labor positions and to encourage young people to consider careers in furniture manufacturing will start October 2 to coincide with nationwide Manufacturing Day sponsored by the Manufacturing Institute of the National Association of Manufacturers.

“Manufacturing Day was created to address common misperceptions about manufacturing and to educate the public about the rewarding careers that U.S. manufacturing offers,” said Dwayne Welch, executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer for HSM. “That made it an ideal launch pad for our home furnishings industry initiative.”

Welch chairs a volunteer task force within the Solution Partners division that will oversee the jobs initiative. A furniture industry jobs website will be among the first objectives of the campaign. 

“Within the home furnishings industry, as in manufacturing generally throughout the United States, there is a significant shortage of skilled labor that is only projected to grow over the next decade as thousands of our most experienced workers reach retirement,” Welch said. “And we have hundreds of openings today in some regions. What we need is a way to connect qualified workers with the available jobs. AHFA’s Solution Partners intends to provide that connection with a new online furniture industry jobs center.”

In addition to helping prospective workers find available positions, the online jobs center will be designed to inform and inspire students as they plan for the future. This type of outreach is necessary if the home furnishings industry is to regain its public image as a reliable employer, Welch said.

“An entire generation has grown up seeing furniture factories close and watching friends and relatives lose their livelihoods as wood furniture manufacturing jobs moved overseas,” Welch said. “The media and the general public are not aware that thousands of furniture manufacturing jobs never left our shores. In fact, more than half of the upholstered furniture sold in America is still made in America.”  

Currently, hundreds of U.S. upholstery plants are operated by an aging work force – and the pipeline of workers being trained to take their places is woefully insufficient.

“Some estimates place the annual rate of retirement at upholstery plants in the Hickory-Lenoir area at 10 percent,” Welch said. “Catawba Valley Community College has one of the few upholstery training programs in the country”

The Solution Partners Task Force met with Catawba Valley Community College administrators last month.

Taught by current upholstery artisans and craftsmen, the program includes hands-on training in a 6,000-square-foot simulated furniture manufacturing facility. In addition to a “furniture fundamentals” introduction, the academy includes training in manual and automated cutting, pattern-making, sewing, and spring-up assembly. A similar training program is set to launch in Alexander County, N.C., this year.

Links to training programs like the one at Catawba Valley Community College also will be available on the jobs website, Welch said. 

The jobs initiative, which will work to address all furniture industry worker needs, not just those in upholstery plants, is being funded by AHFA’s Solution Partners and a $75,000 grant from AHFA’s Furniture Foundation, which has been funding research and educational programs in the home furnishings industry since 1948.

 



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