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US struggles to find skilled textile workers

The American textile and apparel industries as a whole is experiencing a nascent turnaround as apparel and textile companies demand higher quality, more reliable scheduling, and fewer safety problems than they encounter overseas.

Accidents such as the factory collapse in Bangladesh this year, which killed more than 1,000 workers, have reinforced the push for domestic production. However, the industries were decimated over the last two decades and 77 percent of American workforce has been lost since 1990, as companies moved jobs abroad and manufacturers are now scrambling to find workers to fill the specialized jobs that have not been taken over by machines.

Wages for cut-and-sew jobs, the core of the apparel industry’s remaining work force, have been rising fast, increasing by 13.2 percent on an inflation-adjusted basis from 2007 to 2012, while overall private-sector pay rose just 1.4 percent.

Like manufacturers in many parts of the country, those in Minnesota are wrestling to attract a new generation of factory workers while also protecting their bottomlines in an industry where pennies per garment can make or break a business. The backbone of the new wave of manufacturing in the United States has been automation, but some tasks still require human hands.Nationally, manufacturers have established recruitment centresthat use touch screens and other interactive technology to promote the benefits of textile and apparel work.

Last year, about 142,000 people were employed as sewing-machine operators in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the Minneapolis-St Paul metro area, which had almost 1.75 million workers last year and where the unemployment rate as of July was 4.9 percentonly 860 were employed in 2012 as machine sewers.



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