Learn From These Management Horror Stories
But the gradual slowdown of U.S. manufacturing (and the workers that go with it) is hitting Van Aken's company hard. Her workforce is getting older; parents look to send their kids to private universities to secure top-paying white-collar jobs, which is ironic right now, Van Aken says, given the troubled economy.
"There are huge barriers right now in my industry in manufacturing domestically. Two generations have passed since these skills have been taught and trained. The folks who do know how to cut, operate machines, finish, pattern-make, etc., are all in their 50s or older," Van Aken says.
Hire unskilled workers and it's time-consuming to hire and train them, though.
"We really need to train one at a time, and are having a hard time finding the resources. It is difficult for us to spend the money and time to train in the midst of trying to bootstrap and grow a business," she says.
She has taken to finding workers anyplace she can, from posting ads in Mandarin on the job board in Chinatown to calling an insurance agent connected to the local Cambodian community to finding workers through a flight attendant friend's mother who owned a small cut-and-sew shop.
The company got a grant from Philadelphia Workforce Development to recruit and train machine operators.
Over the long run Van Aken is looking to change the mindset of U.S. manufacturing and hopes to launch apprentice programs for young workers to learn the craft.
"The truth is that these good middle-class jobs are now frowned upon by the American culture, when in reality college isn't an option for many Americans and isn't the right fit for many kids. It is why we have unfillable job openings as electricians and various trades that provide great wages. We are not only up against a lapse in vocation in our industry, we are up against a cultural mindset," Van Aken says. "I would like to restore the apparel industry manufacturing jobs to a noble profession. It is a craft."
-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.
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