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September 24, 2015 – HIGH POINT, N.C. – The Solution Partners division of the American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA) will launch a jobs website dedicated to the home furnishings industry on October 2.

The new website, www.furniturecareers.us, will initially focus on linking job candidates with the hundreds of available manufacturing positions in the Catawba County area of North Carolina. Under the “Made in Catawba Valley” banner, the site spotlights current industry employees describing what they love about their work in furniture manufacturing. It will link interested workers to training and apprenticeship opportunities and invite them to register on the website to receive information on available job openings.

The website will target potential workers within a 40-mile radius of Hickory, N.C., including Statesville, Taylorsville, Lenoir, Morganton and Lincolnton.

More than two dozen AHFA member companies with factories in the Catawba County area have signed up to participate in the initiative. All job candidate profiles collected on the site will be sent directly to human resources contacts at the participating companies. If the effort proves successful in Catawba County, it can be replicated in other areas of North Carolina, as well as in other areas of the country where a shortage of skilled labor is hindering home furnishings industry growth.

According to a 2015 survey conducted by The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte, six out of 10 skilled labor positions in the United States are unfilled due to lack of qualified applicants. The shortage is acute in the upholstery industry, where the pipeline of new talent has nearly dried up, and long-time, highly-skilled workers are retiring in droves. An informal survey of AHFA member companies in the Catawba County area of North Carolina found anticipated retirement rates as high as 10 percent a year for the foreseeable future.

In addition to helping prospective workers find available positions, the online jobs center will be designed to promote home furnishings manufacturing as a reliable and rewarding career choice for high school students and graduates, returning military and those who are currently employed but looking for more stable work with an opportunity for salary growth.

“According to the North Carolina Department of Commerce, the average weekly wage for manufacturing workers in the Western Piedmont of North Carolina is now $805. That’s higher than most other sectors in the region, for the exception of information technology and financial services,” notes Mary O’Keeffe, executive director of AHFA’s Solution Partners division.

However, despite the earning potential, O’Keeffe notes that many job seekers in the Catawba County area shy away from home furnishings industry jobs. Between 2001 and 2010, North Carolina lost more than 20,000 jobs in wood household furniture production, most of them to overseas factories. Upholstery production declined as well, but at nowhere near the rate of wood furniture production.

Today, while only 18 percent of the wood furniture sold in the United States is still made domestically, over 56 percent of upholstered furniture is still produced here – and much of it in the Catawba County region.

“But the general public is not aware that thousands of upholstery manufacturing jobs never left our shores,” explains O’Keeffe.

The need for local skilled workers prompted Catawba Valley Community College to launch a new furniture academy in 2014 with support from five area furniture manufacturers. Taught by current upholstery artisans and craftsmen, the program includes hands-on training in a 6,000-square-foot simulated furniture manufacturing facility. The curriculum 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., later this year.

Training programs like the one at Catawba Valley Community College will be promoted on the furniture careers website, O’Keeffe notes.

The website development was funded by AHFA’s Solution Partners and a grant from AHFA’s Furniture Foundation, which has been supporting research and educational programs in the home furnishings industry since 1948.

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