Is the wood industry hiring? Manufacturing jobs have been leading gains in U.S. employment. Despite March's poor showing in hiring - just 130,000 net new jobs were created after several months in the 200,000+ range - 37,000 of them were in manufacturing.
Yet the wood manufacturing industry has shed jobs over the past year. In part, its the prequel to the recovery - the hiring is just beginning.
But the loss of jobs also stems from another change - increasing automation in all industries, including the woodworking field. Manufacturers are exceeding pre-downturn output levels using concentrated, highly productive factories. As Ethan Allen's CEO noted, just seven furniture factories today - mostly i8n the U.S. - handle the volume once produced by 31 factories 20 years ago.
More than 230,000 manufacturing jobs have been created in the last year and half, and more than two million aging manufacturing industry workers are likely to retire within the next 10 years.
This means a high rate of manufacturing job hirings will take place over the next decade - true in the wood industries as in others. But the automation factor means the jobs will require higher skill levels, or a more sophisticated operator primed to learn and to learn quickly.
It is mandatory that wood manufacturing firms become more involved in education. Quite a few have, and a number of suppliers have been very responsible. This has been especially laudable during the downturn.
Scholarship programs such as the WMIA Educational Foundation are also important for the students helped directly, and for bringing attention to the amazing students seeking fulfilling careers with their hands on wood.
Suppliers traditionally have taken a leading role in advancing wood industry education. They know the best customer is an educated consumer, who will want the best tools and know how to use them.
Stiles has built a virtual operating unit around education. Woodcraft's woodworking classes are legendary. Torchmate, a CNC manufacturer, hopes to sell more of its compact routers to schools, noting the expansion for funding of U.S. vocational education (last summer the U.S. Navy announced a $100 million investment in technical and science-based education; and the federal government a community college support program for technical education).
The most important thing for woodworking companies is to become involved on a local level with your community schools. Help them maintain, or start a woodworking program. (WoodLINKS provides a turn-key curriculum). And talk to the students - let them see your shop, and learn about your career. Here are some examples of great support:
Wood Component Manufacturers Assn. Supports Education
WoodLINKS USA announced that the Wood Component Manufacturers Association (WCMA) has contributed $2,500 in support of its wood manufacturing industry educational activities.
WoodLINKS USA Benefit Auction
The 2012 Woodworking Industry Conference, May 2-4, Delray Beach, FL Marriott, will hold an auction of woodwork made by employees, friends of member companies and WoodLINKS USA supported students.
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