The U.S. Furniture Industry Is Back—but There Aren’t Enough Workers

The U.S. Furniture Industry Is Back—but There Aren’t Enough Workers

By Ruth Simon

Companies expanding American production due to consumer preferences and tariffs are finding a dearth of skilled workers

HICKORY, N.C—Here’s the good news: There are now more reasons to make furniture in the U.S. than at any point since the financial crisis. Crate & Barrel and Williams-Sonoma Inc. are expanding manufacturing in the U.S., and the factories of longtime furniture makers are humming.

Here’s the bad news: There aren’t enough skilled workers available to support the renaissance.

Manufacturers across the country are struggling to fill open slots in a tight U.S. labor market. Furniture companies, which for decades have been hit by competition from China, face special challenges after years of shrinking. A generation of prospective sewers and upholsterers have steered clear of the industry, leaving it heavily reliant on an aging workforce.

At Century Furniture, based in Hickory, N.C., delivery times have stretched to nearly nine weeks because of the worker shortage, which has caused the company to lose orders.

“I walk around our factories every other day and am spooked by what I see,” said Alex Shuford III, chief executive of RHF Investments Inc., owner of Century and several other furniture brands. “The retirements are coming and I can’t find enough people.”

The turnabout for a once-beleaguered sector has been spurred in part by the internet, which has reshaped shoppers’ behavior and expectations. Consumers demand their choice of fabrics and features but don’t have the patience to wait two months for an item to arrive from Asia. At the same time, tariffs are stepping up pressure on American manufacturers to move production home.

Roughly 90% of dining tables, bookcases and other wooden furniture are now made abroad, according to Mann, Armistead & Epperson Ltd., an investment banking and research firm. But U.S. factories still churn out about half of upholstered furniture sold in this country, much of it in places like Catawba County, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Custom upholstery requires skilled labor and isn’t well-suited to long production runs of the same items common in overseas factories. Upholstered sofas and chairs are also more costly and difficult to ship than tables and bookcases, which can be easily stacked and reassembled. Shipping a single custom item from overseas can also be too costly.

“Pretty much all the companies that survived the last crisis have been in a growth mode,” said John Bray, chief executive of Vanguard Furniture Co., which has about 600 employees. “When business picked up, there just weren’t enough skilled people.”

Chad Ballard, 28 years old, was building swimming pools and trimming trees in Daytona Beach, Fla., when he decided to move to Hickory and then take a chance on an entry-level job at Century. Now, four evenings a week, he studies upholstery at Catawba Valley Community College in Hickory, a skill that could boost his annual pay to $45,000 within a few years and, if he can master the craft, to $75,000 or more.

Hiring Mr. Ballard was a small victory for Century, which in any given week has about 35 openings for sewers, upholsterers and other trades. “He came to us through a temporary agency,” said Amy Millsaps Guyer, vice president of human resources at the furniture maker. “We won the lottery.”

Furniture makers used to dominate the economies of places like Hickory. But the industry shed roughly 250,000 production jobs from its peak in 2000, leaving about 295,000 such workers in the U.S. today, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some older, more experienced workers were able to hang on, but furniture makers largely stopped hiring during the 2008 recession, leading to a dearth of workers ages 35 to 50. In the Hickory area, 42% of sewing machine operators and one-third of upholsterers are 55 or older, according to the Catawba County Economic Development Corp.

“Parents would say, ‘Stay away. You will lose your job,’ ” said Bill McBrayer, director of human resources for Lexington Home Brands, a furniture maker in Thomasville, N.C. “How do we get the young and old to come back to the industry?”

One answer is the Catawba Valley Furniture Academy here, created by local companies struggling to find skilled employees in partnership with Catawba Valley Community College. Furniture makers are also, for the first time, creating internal training programs and adding benefits such as free health clinics.

“My dad has been in furniture his whole life,” said Nathaniel Kaylor, a 21-year-old student at the academy. “He told me from the get-go to stay out of it. You get old fast. Go to college.”

“Parents would say, ‘Stay away. You will lose your job,’ ” said Bill McBrayer, director of human resources for Lexington Home Brands, a furniture maker in Thomasville, N.C. “How do we get the young and old to come back to the industry?”

The academy launched in 2014 at the urging of five local companies, which helped develop the curriculum, donated supplies and provided employees whom the college pays to serve as instructors. Students spend eight months studying manual cutting or sewing, at a total cost of around $425; an 11-month upholstery program costs about $600.

“The good news is we can graduate 150 people a year,” said Vanguard’s Mr. Bray. “The bad news is that the industry needs 800 to 1,000 people.”

Vanguard opened its second manufacturing operation in Hillsville, Va., five years ago because it couldn’t find enough skilled workers in Hickory. To better attract young workers who balk at a 6:30 a.m. start time, Vanguard is looking at how to create a flexible schedule that will allow some workers to have a later start time and still get a full eight hours out of a production shift.

Competition for furniture academy graduates is so keen that Lexington’s Mr. McBrayer sometimes swings by in the evening to get to know the students before graduation. To find recruits, he speaks to parent-teacher organizations, high-school classes and Rotary clubs.

“The toughest question,” the 61-year-old executive said, “is the one that haunts us forever: What makes me think that if my child goes into this industry it will be there in two years?”

Kevin Sierks, chief financial officer of Crate & Barrel, a unit of Otto GmbH & Co KG, said quick delivery is another advantage for U.S. factories. “It’s no different than the fashion industry.”

Screen Shot 2019-12-06 at 10.25.28 AM

The Northbrook, Ill., retailer outsources most upholstered furniture production to three U.S. companies. It recently made its first investment in U.S. manufacturing, working with a Hickory-based startup on a new $3.1 million factory that aims to shrink production time to two weeks.

Chinese companies are also looking to cater to the changing demands of U.S. customers. This fall, Samson Holding Ltd. , which manufactures in China, acquired Southern Furniture, a nearly century-old, Conover, N.C., maker of custom upholstered furniture. “We were only going to take it to the next level by offering special orders, which is difficult to do” from Asia, said Jeff Scheffer, the North Carolina-based chief executive of Samson’s Universal Furniture unit.

Jason Buck, 21, planned to start his furniture studies in mid-July, but classes were delayed until September because there weren’t enough students. At Catawba Valley Community College, 197 students were enrolled in the welding program this fall, nearly three times the 67 studying furniture making.

Williams-Sonoma last year asked the college to create an eight-week training program. The shorter program focused on basic sewing and upholstery skills and was followed by eight weeks of in-house training.

“The labor market is very tight in North Carolina,” said Darryl Webster, the executive in charge of Williams-Sonoma’s manufacturing operation. “I quickly realized that you need to be literally standing there before they graduate offering them a job.”

Williams-Sonoma’s newly opened manufacturing facility in Baldwyn, Miss. Photo: Andrea Morales for The Wall Street Journal

When Williams-Sonoma opened its fourth upholstered furniture factory this year, a process accelerated by tariffs, it set up shop in Baldwyn, Miss., because of the area’s deep pool of talent. Still, a job fair held at a nearby community college last December produced 200 applicants, but just 15 hires. “Probably 50% didn’t have any experience,” Mr. Webster said.

Bonita Hawkins, 51, had a job offer from Williams-Sonoma in Hickory even before she earned her certificate from the furniture academy in 2016. “All over the city, I see signs looking for upholsterers, for sewers,” said Ms. Hawkins, who made custom clothing in Los Angeles before moving to North Carolina.

Craftmaster Furniture Inc., based in nearby Taylorsville, N.C., recently set out yard signs offering a $2,000 signing bonus for experienced seamstresses. Soon after, a friend told CEO Roy Calcagne that he had spotted the signs in a competitor’s trunk. “It’s every man for himself when it comes to hiring people,” Mr. Calcagne said.

Craftmaster has a doctor and nurse offering free medical care on site four days a week, and gives raises every four weeks to trainees who show improvement. “The old-school way used to be that you were lucky to have a job,” Mr. Calcagne said. “The way we look at it today is we are lucky to have you here.”

501 (c)(3) Workforce Development Organization

© 2018 Bridging America’s Gap. All Right Reserved.

Going Big At The Demo Expo

Going Big At The Demo Expo

Tom Pfister 9/20/2019


Big. Thirty acres big.

The International Construction and Utility Equipment Exposition is charged up and powered on for October 1 – 3, 2019, at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville. Equipped with test drives and hands-on product demonstrations, the biennial event is naturally branded the Demo Expo.

Billed as North America’s largest utility and construction trade show, more than 18,000 utility professionals will attend ICUEE — pronounced Eye-Q. Utility companies and construction contractors anticipate ICUEE for access to new technologies, innovations and trends.

“Industry trade shows like ICUEE are prime opportunities to see the latest and greatest equipment set to go to market,” said ICUEE Show Director John Rozum. “There’s simply no better place for attendees to find new ideas, make new connections and – most importantly – discover new solutions.”

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) owns and produces ICUEE, and with it, brings together manufacturers and suppliers with purchasers and utilities. AEM is the premier trade association for off-road equipment manufacturers and suppliers, and is known for best-in-class conferences and trade shows. AEM’s ICUEE is a Gold 100 trade show, and won top honors in 2016 as the largest biennial exhibition, as compiled by Trade Show Executive magazine.

“As the U.S. utility industry grows,” Rozum said, “our attendees need the equipment to keep the lights on and the water flowing.”

The Demo Expo has the type of equipment that makes construction projects and utility work on some of the more impossible properties, well, possible. Whether it’s preparing a site for a healthcare facility, or bringing broadband to rural communities or reclaiming abandoned mine land, the right equipment is key to completing projects.

The same holds true for emergency response equipment deployed by utilities and contractors in the aftermath of hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires. Heroes, human kindness and dependable equipment go a long way after disasters.

Go Big Before You Go Home

AEM thinks this year’s expo will be a record-breaker, their largest-ever ICUEE. Indoors and outdoors ICUEE is expanding, to almost 1.3 million net square feet of exhibit space.

“The ICUEE show experience is changing and we’re expanding our footprint to accommodate new exhibitors — exhibitors who want to bring more product and technology to help our attendees do their jobs better, faster and safer,” continued Rozum.

“ICUEE 2019 will cover more than 30 acres of the industry’s latest technology and equipment, hands-on equipment test drives and interactive product demonstrations — with more than 240 utility industry product categories, and more than 200 new exhibitors joining longtime favorites. They’re all here to help attendees find the right jobsite solutions.”

A sample of exhibitors at ICUEE Demo Expo includes:

  • Altec
  • Bronto Skylift
  • CASE Construction Equipment
  • Cummins Inc.
  • Ditch Witch
  • Ford Commercial Vehicles
  • Hyundai Construction Equipment Americas Inc.
  • John Deere Construction & Forestry Company
  • Milwaukee Tool
  • Railhead Underground Products LLC
  • Subsite Electronics
  • Tulsa Rig Iron
  • Vermeer Corporation
  • Versalift
  • Of course, because this is Demo Expo, many more

Bridging The Gap

In addition to adult educational offerings at ICUEE, today’s youth will get an up close look at skilled labor careers.

AEM is partnering with the workforce development organization Bridging America’s Gap to host what they call their Career Skills Event – a career day at the expo for more than 350 students from high schools and tech schools, from as far away as Indianapolis.

“AEM is excited to work with Bridging America’s Gap, and ICUEE and our exhibitors are looking forward to meeting our student attendees and showing them how rewarding an industry career can be,” said Julie Davis, AEM’s director of workforce development in a statement. “AEM has worked for many years to help strengthen and expand tomorrow’s industry workforce, and we are dedicated to helping our members, exhibitors and industry segments attract and retain talent.”

The student groups will rotate at learning stations onsite, including simulators for a unique view of skilled trade professions. The organized visit is a pivotal moment to listen to industry professionals share experiences of how they got involved in the trades and what they love about what they do.

It’s not too late to go to ICUEE Demo Expo in Louisville, but registration is required to attend.

“Trade shows are all about the experience that you can’t get online,” Rozum added. “It’s more than sitting in the seat of different models of equipment to demo the features – it’s having a conversation with the people who made it and know what makes it tick.”

501 (c)(3) Workforce Development Organization

© 2018 Bridging America’s Gap. All Right Reserved.

‘Career Skills Event’ at ICUEE 2019 Connects Students to Industry Jobs

‘Career Skills Event’ at ICUEE 2019 Connects Students to Industry Jobs

AEM and Bridging America’s Gap Partner to Showcase Career Opportunities

MILWAUKEE and LOUISVILLE, Ky. (August 27, 2019)


Over the next few years, 20 million skilled employees will retire.

To help address worker shortages, ICUEE 2019-The Demo Expo will host a special careers day at the show for hundreds of high school students to see the many rewarding industry careers available.

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), show owner and producer, has partnered with Bridging America’s Gap to bring the organization’s Career Skills Event to the show on closing day, October 3.

ICUEE, the International Construction and Utility Equipment Exposition will take place October 1-3, 2019 at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky. ICUEE is the largest and leading event for utilities and utility and construction contractors seeking comprehensive insights into the latest industry technologies, innovations and trends.

“We work diligently to bring together young people and educators with employers to help build a long-term entry-level employee pipeline,” said V. Brett Melvin, founder and executive director of Bridging America’s Gap. “This first-hand look will be a real treat and a rare opportunity for any young person to see the multitude of career opportunities available to them in the skilled trades.”

“AEM is excited to work with Bridging America’s Gap, and ICUEE and our exhibitors are looking forward to meeting our student attendees and showing them how rewarding an industry career can be,” said Julie Davis, AEM’s director of workforce development. “AEM has worked for many years to help strengthen and expand tomorrow’s industry workforce, and we are dedicated to helping our members, exhibitors and industry segments attract and retain talent.”

During the Career Skills Event at ICUEE 2019, student groups will rotate between half a dozen learning stations, including simulators, for a hands-on look at skilled trade career opportunities.

Industry professionals will also share their personal experiences on how they got involved and what they love about their careers.

ICUEE comes once every two years and is known as The Demo Expo for its equipment test drives and interactive product demonstrations. Learn more and register at

Learn more about Bridging America’s Gap at


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© 2018 Bridging America’s Gap. All Right Reserved.

4 Reasons Young People Should Consider A Career In The Trades

4 Reasons Young People Should Consider A Career In The Trades


One of the best ways into the trades is apprenticeship training, which offers advanced technical skills by combining on-the-job experience with intensive technical instruction leading to certification.

Today’s youth tell the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum (CAF-FCA) they are open to skilled trades careers in the construction and energy sectors. They value hands-on work and the contribution tradespeople make to the economy. Parents tell us they want to find ways to support their children’s ambitions, seeking more information about the right high school courses to take and the job opportunities available to apprentices.

“Parents and youth are concerned these occupations are physically demanding, reflecting a limited awareness of technologies used to support today’s tradespeople, particularly in the construction sector.”

Yet, there are common myths and misperceptions about the skilled trades. For example, parents and youth are concerned these occupations are physically demanding, reflecting a limited awareness of technologies used to support today’s tradespeople, particularly in the construction sector. Here are five reasons to pursue a career in construction:

1. Diverse job opportunities: The growing demand for skilled workers continues to increase and diverse jobs in the construction industry are available across Canada in both urban and rural areas.

2. Earn as you learn: As an apprentice, you can start earning money as soon as you complete high school. Apprentices earn an increasing proportion of journeyperson wages while progressing toward certification.

3. Salaries are lucrative: Construction workers earn more than the average Canadian, with an average annual salary of $61,762, according to StatsCan. According to Canadian Business Magazine, construction workers had an average pay increase of six percent last year — nearly double the national average.

4. Build a meaningful career: According to the National Research Council of Canada, construction is a key indicator of economic strength as a $171-billion industry employing 1.24 million people. Canada’s energy sector, a destination for tradespeople and a major construction hub, invested $25-billion in Canada’s clean-energy sector over the past five years and increased employment by 37 percent, according to The Globe and Mail.

501 (c)(3) Workforce Development Organization

© 2018 Bridging America’s Gap. All Right Reserved.

Why This Professional Carpenter Is Educating Young Women On Careers In The Trades

Why This Professional Carpenter Is Educating Young Women On Careers In The Trades

by Cheryl Robinson

Nolee Anderson, founder of Joist and a professional carpenter, is dedicated to educating young women of the various career paths available to them through a skilled trade. Joist was created to offer young girls and women the exposure, excitement and encouragement to cultivate practical skills in a safe environment.

Based on a study conducted by Wolverine (known for making durable work boots for more than 135 years), only nine percent of high school students plan on pursuing the skilled trades profession, and 80% of construction firms state they are having trouble finding qualified workers. It’s imperative that mentorships, advocacies and programs like Anderson’s are put in place to help fill America’s skill gap. One of Anderson’s initiatives was as a contributing founder to GRIT (Girls Representing in Trades), hands-on workshops in the skilled trades, from construction and electrical to welding and auto mechanics serving middle and high school girls and non-binary and gender-diverse youth.

“It was set up to give high school girls an opportunity to have a really safe space to try out trades skills,” Anderson expresses, “and learn about them in a comfortable setting where they were not necessarily under the microscope of a wood shop class. It was to give them a space where they could just find out opportunities about trades work that they probably wouldn’t find anywhere else; that no one else would bring to them and encourage them to do it…Our goal was to tell girls that the trades were an awesome option, a profitable option and a satisfying one, too.” In addition to the basic trades skills, the organization just recently added a butchery class.

Joist founder Nolee Anderson reviews plans she designed for a picnic table and benches to be built by Joist participants and donated to a local Nashville non-profit. (The Associated Press)

Initially, Anderson took a gap year between graduating high school and attending college. She was unsure of what she wanted to study. During that time, she decided she was going to go to art school to become an art teacher because that seemed like the most practical career path. However, she quickly realized she would not excel in that environment. Eventually, she enrolled in a carpentry and sustainable construction program. At the time, that particular program had three females in it. Anderson graduated in two years with a multitude of certificates and on-the-job training experience.

“I found myself in school a lot of the time when I was the only female on a certain project or in the shop during class being the first person to volunteer to do a task,” she smiles. “I knew if I was going to do it wrong, and if I was going to fail, it wasn’t because I saw them [her classmates] do it 16 times beforehand; then I’d be the girl who got up there and failed. I knew everyone in this classroom is afraid to try this because they’ve never done it before, and they’re afraid to fail. If I just get the failing out of the way, then we’re all going to be way better at this.”

In 2018, Anderson signed with Wolverine as part of Team Wolverine under its Project Bootstrap. Originally, the program visited job sites and trade schools, donating work boots to those who build America’s houses, roads and valuable infrastructure. The addition of Team Wolverine is to support individuals that personify the drive, grit and work ethic of those in the trades to help close the skills gap.

Nolee Anderson and Joist volunteers showcase the finished product— a picnic table and benches to be donated to the Nashville Food Project—from the organization’s first event, co-hosted by Wolverine.The Associated Press

Although more women are entering the trade skill workforce, it is still often a challenge being the only woman in the room. Anderson continuously works on evolving her confidence. “I find myself in my head forgiving myself a lot of the time for being female and being in my position,” she humbly shares. “I’m like ‘you know, it’s okay that I’m the only me in the shop today. I just have to be okay with it.’” She is reconditioning her mindset from the notion that she has to know everything about the current project she’s working on to accepting that it’s ok if she doesn’t know everything.

As Anderson’s initiatives continuously gain traction, she shares three essential steps for young women looking to transition into the trades:

  • Be flexible. Always be ready to divert from the plan but also understand that that’s okay. Harping over what should have happened will not propel you forward.
  • Ask questions. It’s ok not to know something. At some point, everyone starts from square one. The more you know, the easier it will be to learn the trade.
  • Prepare for the failure. Everyone fails at least once. It’s inevitable. Learning how to pick yourself up and move forward is critical for success.

“My goal,” Anderson concludes, “is to keep generations that are following me from having to bear this trailblazer title. I just want to make sure that I make enough and take up enough room in any place that I can right now so that the girls following me don’t have to feel like they have the spotlight on them all the time. I want more tradeswomen to feel comfortable and to not think twice about being who they are and being able to hold these positions.”

501 (c)(3) Workforce Development Organization

© 2018 Bridging America’s Gap. All Right Reserved.

Four Reasons Why Teens Should Learn a Trade

Four Reasons Why Teens Should Learn a Trade

via grown & flown

In recent decades there has been a strong push in American education to prepare all high school students for college. Whether the intention has been to marginalize career and technical training or whether CTE classes have merely been collateral damage in the fight to raise academic standards and promote STEM courses, is unclear. What is clear is that fewer and fewer young people are pursuing careers as skilled tradespeople.

Considering 44 percent of employers report a talent shortage, it is fortunate that programs like the mikeroweWORKS Foundation and The Old House’s Generation Next are working to encourage young Americans to consider careers in skilled trades. Still, since the U.S. education system has spent decades pushing college, it will likely take additional encouragement to get teens and young adults to recognize the benefits of this alternative career path.

Here’s some encouragement parents can offer to a child who shows an interest in or aptitude for some form of skilled work.

1. Pursuing a trade degree doesn’t mean a mountain of debt.

The average cost of bachelor’s degree is $127,000, and 70 percent of students take out some form of student loan to help cover this cost. On average, borrowers graduate with $37,172 in debt. The average trade school degree, on the other hand, costs only $33,000 – less than what many four-year degree holders will still owe after graduation. Not only that, but students who earn a trade degree will enter the workforce at least two years sooner than those earning a bachelors, giving tradespeople a jumpstart on earning an income.

2. Thar’s gold in them thar pipes (or wires or trusses or commercial vehicles).

Okay, maybe not gold, but there is good money to be made. I have a friend who is a highly educated college professor. He makes a comfortable living, and of course he loves his work, but recently as we discussed his own children’s future career plans, it was my friend who raised the idea of pursuing a trade. He told me that every time he calls his plumber, the plumber answers his phone from his yacht.

Of course not every tradesperson will earn a yacht-buying salary, but there are a number of skilled professions that can pay upwards of six figures.

3. Tradespeople are free people.

Tradespeople are free to roam the country or to stay put in their own hometowns. Of course certification requirements for most trades vary from state to state, but there isn’t a state in the union that doesn’t need plumbers or electricians or masons or most other skilled professionals. Having a marketable skill means having the freedom to live almost anywhere.

4. The trades are noble professions.

There is no single cause for the decline in CTE training in recent decades. However, without a doubt one factor has been an over-emphasis on four year degrees. College seems to be touted as the destiny of every high school student, and high schools often emphasize academics over skill.

For this reason, students who are less academically inclined are often placed in CTE classes whether they have an interest in those classes or not. Worse is that many high school trade classes have been over-intellectualized so that even in traditional hands-on courses, there is more book work than in previous years.

The message has been all too clear: “Academics are more valuable than physical or skilled work.” Fortunately there has been an effort to change that message in recent years and to restore dignity to trade education and tradespeople. Still, that message is going to have to be reinforced in classrooms and at home so that all students, not only those pursing a trade, will recognize the beauty and value of possessing a skill, of being able to make something with one’s own hands, and of offering a service that makes other people’s lives not only better, but in many cases, possible.

In the same way that college is not for everyone, neither are the skilled professions. To pursue a trade, students must posses the desire, the talent, and the determination to master their chosen skills. Yet, what a shame it is if some never do because they lack the same encouragement to pursue their dreams that university-bound students get to pursue theirs.

501 (c)(3) Workforce Development Organization

© 2018 Bridging America’s Gap. All Right Reserved.

How to Become a Skilled Tradesperson

How to Become a Skilled Tradesperson

The trades are hiring! The most important requirement? Wanting a career.

via popular mechanics

Want a job?

The demand for most trades is strong and getting stronger. The U.S. Department of Labor forecasts healthy growth in the neighborhood of 8 to 9 percent over the next decade. Jobs associated with building and rebuilding roads, bridges, water, and the power grid are expected to grow by double-digit percentages—faster than the overall economy. Jobs for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters are projected to grow 16 percent during this same time period. And projected employment growth across all occupations is 7.4 percent. Construction, the mechanical trades, and industrial occupations like welding are in-demand trades that could mean either a stable career or a launching pad. You might start out swinging a hammer but it could lead to project management, environmental analysis, sales, education, or engineering. I met a bunch of these people in the course of writing this article. And, by the way, that’s how I found my way here. This story is going to tell you how you can do it, too. (Check out our companion article, The State of American Trade Schools, for more info.)

“The trades are not merely an alternative to college. A trade is equal to college.”

The postwar era in America was one of unparalleled white-collar growth. Thus both public and private high schools were deemed most successful if they graduated students to college. But college costs have risen sharply and continue to rise. Forbes concluded a year ago that college tuition is rising nearly eight times faster than wages. A four-year degree is still deemed valuable, but you’ve got to be able to afford it with a minimum of debt and it has to be the basis of a well-paying job when you exit. If not, you’re stuck.

Given a decades-old institutional bias toward college, it’s not surprising that trades teachers feel like they’re constantly playing second fiddle. “Our biggest challenge today is that guidance counselors push every student into college,” says Jim Reid, director of apprenticeships for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM). Tim Baber, professor of manufacturing technology at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, California, echoes that. Speaking about his high-school-age son, he says, “All he hears is college, college, college.” Oddly enough, the trades bear some responsibility. As the construction industry waxed and waned over the years, one of the places it looked to cut costs was training. This led to a shortage of helpers and apprentices. “Journeymen did everything themselves. That worked for a while, but you see where that got us,” says William Fuller, craft development manager for the Houston-area Construction and Maintenance Education Foundation, the educational affiliate of the trade association Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). Fuller should know. He was recently named Craft Instructor of the Year, no small achievement for a guy who started out at 13 digging ditches with a shovel. He went on to become a heavy-equipment operator, carpenter, boilermaker, rigger, and crane operator.

“It’s a huge generation shift, away from ‘Boys can do this and girls can’t.’” Bianca Criollo-­Cruz, 27, welding instructor

ABC contractors are also on the front lines of getting students prepared as early as possible, while they’re still in high school. Trained high school graduates are deemed “trade ready” when they can read a set of plans, set up a job, and work with journeymen. They may stay with their trades training to pursue journeyman status, exit to college, or pursue both. A blended profession consisting of college and trades education that’s achieved incrementally, without college debt, is appealing to many and a smart way to hedge your bets. “The trades are a way to earn and learn,” IAM’s Reid says. “They’re a way to still have college available to you. It’s a way to secure your future.” He started out as an auto-body mechanic, became a machinist, and went on to get two bachelor’s degrees, one in labor studies and another in education.

Another example of the trades-college track is our longtime trades advisor, Pat Porzio, a second-generation tradesman with three trade licenses (electrical contractor, master plumber, and master HVAC); he also has a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering. Today he’s HVAC manager for Russo Bros. & Co., a plumbing and HVAC company in East Hanover, New Jersey.

Finally, consider Dan Maurer, a journeyman pipefitter with United Association Local 190, a plumber and pipe trades union in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He’s one class away from an associate degree in applied science. He left general construction and carpentry to pursue the mechanical trades and today does welding, plumbing, and medical gas piping for Boone & Darr, a mechanical contractor in Ann Arbor. A rock-solid middle-class breadwinner, Maurer is the sole support for his stay-at-home wife and two young daughters, no small feat today for any young family.

A future in the trades begins even before you graduate high school, he says: “Pay attention while you’re in public school to the education that’s right in front of you. It’s free. It’s a gift. When you go on from there to pursue a trade, remember that whatever you put into it is what you get out of it.”

I’ll leave the final words of advice and encouragement to Greg Sizemore, ABC’s vice president of environment, health, safety, and workforce development. His advice is directed as much at the parents as the students. “Parents shouldn’t push kids who are performing poorly in the classroom toward a future in construction, assuming that the student won’t need math or communication skills. We want not only the best student, we want the right student.”

“The trades,” said Sizemore, “are not merely an alternative to college. A trade is equal to college. If you’re a Ph.D. and you’re at home on a Saturday night in July and your air conditioner quits, the smartest person around is somebody who can fix that air conditioner. The trades are one of the most noble career choices that any individual can make. Banks would not be built. Buildings to house machines, hospitals, and any other structure would not be built without the trades. It’s a career choice, not just a job.”

501 (c)(3) Workforce Development Organization

© 2018 Bridging America’s Gap. All Right Reserved.

Golden Rules of Goal Setting

Golden Rules of Goal Setting

Five Rules to Set Yourself Up for Success

via mindtools

Have you thought about what you want to be doing in five years’ time? Are you clear about what your main objective at work is at the moment? Do you know what you want to have achieved by the end of today?

If you want to succeed, you need to set goals. Without goals you lack focus and direction. Goal setting not only allows you to take control of your life’s direction; it also provides you a benchmark for determining whether you are actually succeeding. Think about it: having a million dollars in the bank is only proof of success if one of your goals is to amass riches. If your goal is to practice acts of charity, then keeping the money for yourself is suddenly contrary to how you would define success.

To accomplish your goals, however, you need to know how to set them. You can’t simply say, “I want” and expect it to happen. Goal setting is a process that starts with careful consideration of what you want to achieve, and ends with a lot of hard work to actually do it. In between, there are some very well-defined steps that transcend the specifics of each goal. Knowing these steps will allow you to formulate goals that you can accomplish.

Here are our five golden rules of goal setting, presented in an article, a video and an infographic.

The Five Golden Rules

1. Set Goals That Motivate You

When you set goals for yourself, it is important that they motivate you: this means making sure that they are important to you, and that there is value in achieving them. If you have little interest in the outcome, or they are irrelevant given the larger picture, then the chances of you putting in the work to make them happen are slim. Motivation is key to achieving goals.

Set goals that relate to the high priorities in your life. Without this type of focus, you can end up with far too many goals, leaving you too little time to devote to each one. Goal achievement requires commitment, so to maximize the likelihood of success, you need to feel a sense of urgency and have an “I must do this” attitude. When you don’t have this, you risk putting off what you need to do to make the goal a reality. This in turn leaves you feeling disappointed and frustrated with yourself, both of which are de-motivating. And you can end up in a very destructive “I can’t do anything or be successful at anything” frame of mind.

2. Set SMART Goals

You have probably heard of SMART goals

already. But do you always apply the rule? The simple fact is that for goals to be powerful, they should be designed to be SMART. There are many variations of what SMART stands for, but the essence is this – goals should be:

  • Specific.
  • Measurable.
  • Attainable.
  • Relevant.
  • Time Bound.

Set Specific Goals

Your goal must be clear and well defined. Vague or generalized goals are unhelpful because they don’t provide sufficient direction. Remember, you need goals to show you the way. Make it as easy as you can to get where you want to go by defining precisely where you want to end up.

Set Measurable Goals

Include precise amounts, dates, and so on in your goals so you can measure your degree of success. If your goal is simply defined as “To reduce expenses” how will you know when you have been successful? In one month’s time if you have a 1 percent reduction or in two years’ time when you have a 10 percent reduction? Without a way to measure your success you miss out on the celebration that comes with knowing you have actually achieved something.

Set Attainable Goals

Make sure that it’s possible to achieve the goals you set. If you set a goal that you have no hope of achieving, you will only demoralize yourself and erode your confidence.

However, resist the urge to set goals that are too easy. Accomplishing a goal that you didn’t have to work hard for can be anticlimactic at best, and can also make you fear setting future goals that carry a risk of non-achievement. By setting realistic yet challenging goals, you hit the balance you need. These are the types of goals that require you to “raise the bar” and they bring the greatest personal satisfaction.

Set Relevant Goals

Goals should be relevant to the direction you want your life and career to take. By keeping goals aligned with this, you’ll develop the focus you need to get ahead and do what you want. Set widely scattered and inconsistent goals, and you’ll fritter your time – and your life – away.

Set Time-Bound Goals

Your goals must have a deadline. Again, this means that you know when you can celebrate success. When you are working on a deadline, your sense of urgency increases and achievement will come that much quicker.

3. Set Goals in Writing

The physical act of writing down a goal makes it real and tangible. You have no excuse for forgetting about it. As you write, use the word “will” instead of “would like to” or “might.” For example, “I will reduce my operating expenses by 10 percent this year,” not “I would like to reduce my operating expenses by 10 percent this year.” The first goal statement has power and you can “see” yourself reducing expenses, the second lacks passion and gives you an excuse if you get sidetracked.

Post your goals in visible places to remind yourself every day of what it is you intend to do. Put them on your walls, desk, computer monitor, bathroom mirror or refrigerator as a constant reminder.

4. Make an Action Plan

This step is often missed in the process of goal setting. You get so focused on the outcome that you forget to plan all of the steps that are needed along the way. By writing out the individual steps, and then crossing each one off as you complete it, you’ll realize that you are making progress towards your ultimate goal. This is especially important if your goal is big and demanding, or long-term. Read our article on Action Plans for more on how to do this.

5. Stick With It!

Remember, goal setting is an ongoing activity, not just a means to an end. Build in reminders to keep yourself on track, and make regular time-slots available to review your goals. Your end destination may remain quite similar over the long term, but the action plan you set for yourself along the way can change significantly. Make sure the relevance, value, and necessity remain high.

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© 2018 Bridging America’s Gap. All Right Reserved.

Walmart is going after high school students in war for talent

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By lauren thomas

Walmart has a new target for talent in a tight labor market: high school students.

The nation’s largest private employer, with a U.S. workforce of 1.5 million, announced plans Tuesday to expand a college-education perk to high schoolers, hoping to get them off to universities to continue their education, and relieve them of staggering loan debt.

Here’s what high school students will now have access to, according to Walmart:

  • Jobs within Walmart with scheduling options for flexibility;
  • Free ACT and SAT prep courses;
  • Up to seven hours of free college credit through Walmart’s “Live Better U’s College Start” program; and
  • A debt-free college degree through “Live Better U” (upon completing high school) in three fields from six nonprofit universities.

Walmart said fewer than 25,000 of its workers today are high school students, reflecting a “very small percentage” of its workforce. That’s especially small when compared with other companies in the industry, because it can be often hard to work around students’ busy class schedules, Julie Murphy, executive vice president of Walmart’s U.S. people division, said during a call with members of the media.

But, “we see this as a pipeline we can leverage that we currently aren’t leveraging today,” she said.

The announcement comes a year after Walmart started subsidizing the cost of higher education for its employees who have yet to earn college degrees, creating “Live Better U.” It’s been doing this through a partnership with Guild Education — a tuition reimbursement and education platform that helps large employers extend education benefits, including tuition reimbursement, to workers. Walmart workers accepted into this program only have to contribute $1 per day, for 365 days each year, toward their education, so long as they’re enrolled. Walmart covers the rest.

Tuesday’s announcement expands the program to as many as 5,000 additional workers each year, who will be eligible for $1,500 awards.

Walmart is also adding three schools to the program: Southern New Hampshire University, Purdue University Global and Wilmington University, joining the University of Florida, Brandman University and Bellevue University.

It’s also adding 14 technology degrees and certificates for its workers to choose, including computer science, cybersecurity, computing technology and a certificate for Java programming. When this program launched in 2018, workers had to opt for an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in business or supply chain management.

The goal is for employees to acquire the skills Walmart will need in the future, according to Drew Holler, senior vice president of associate experience for Walmart in the U.S. He said it’s also helping with retention and engagement with customers in stores, as enrolled employees are more committed to their work.

Walmart a year ago had said it expected as many as 68,000 employees could sign up for the new college program over the course of four to five years. Only about 7,500 people have enrolled to date.

“We have gone deliberately slow” with sign-ups to the program, to start, Murphy said. “We expect this to ramp. [And] we think the [new] degrees we are offering will be instrumental … as we think about the future.”

Walmart isn’t the only employer fighting to attract and retain top talent, with U.S. unemployment hovering near record lows.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, in his annual letter to shareholders in April, issued a challenge to other retailers, not naming which ones specifically, to match its pay and benefits. Walmart’s minimum wage of $11 an hour, set in January 2018, is still below Amazon’s, which was hiked to $15 in November. “Do it! Better yet, go to $16,” Bezos said.

Walmart has said its average, hourly compensation including benefits comes out to be more than $17.50.

Also encouraging Walmart to do better, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and Sen. Bernie Sanders is set to attend Walmart’s shareholders meeting on Wednesday, where he’s expected to pressure the company to raise wages and propose that hourly workers get a spot on Walmart’s board. He’s been targeting the world’s biggest retailer for years, going as far as introducing a bill in 2018 aimed to push the company to hike pay.

“I’m going to Bentonville, Arkansas, to tell the Walton family of Walmart, the wealthiest family in America: Get off welfare. Pay your workers a living wage!” Sanders tweeted last week.


501 (c)(3) Workforce Development Organization

© 2018 Bridging America’s Gap. All Right Reserved.

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