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By John Bailey jbailey@hickoryrecord.com Hickory Daily Record
Posted March 2, 2017 

HILDEBRAN – Lexington Home Brands recently celebrated the arrival of two new trainees at its production facility in Hildebran.

Inside upholsterer Alexis Diaz, 19, and sewer Shiann Bryant, 19, are just a couple of weeks into training programs meant to prepare them for careers in home furnishings manufacturing.

Like the Catawba Valley Furniture Academy at Catawba Valley Community College, Lexington Home Brands’ training program is a new pathway to employment many companies in the industry are utilizing to fill their employment needs.

“We couldn’t get anybody to work and that’s why we started the furniture academy, but it takes time to get your skills developed,” Bill McBrayer of Lexington Home Brands said.

The furniture industry doesn’t have a feeder program for the skill sets it needs, McBrayer said, which was the reason for the academy and the new trend to formal training programs by individual companies.

“We’ve never had a training line in sewing, so that’s a first here and the other training line is only a year old,” McBrayer said.

It’s an exciting trend for McBrayer, who’s worked in the industry for 30 years. He likes the idea of recognizing young adults who are taking advantage of these kinds of training programs right out of high school, preparing them for the future.

“So often we shine the light on students who have graduated from high school and they’ve been great athletes, so they sign a letter of intent to go to a college,” McBrayer said. “I want to make it so we shine a light on great students who are coming into a career path that will sustain them for life.”

According to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2015, the average yearly income for furniture manufacturing employees in the Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton region was $37,820, with the range going even higher depending on a person’s skill level. An upholsterer’s pay range is $25-40 per hour while a sewer’s pay can range is between $20-35 per hour.

“Very few people say they want to be an upholsterer. I want to be a trimmer. They don’t think about those career fields, and they get tarnished by the rumor mills that furniture is no longer a viable source of income,” McBrayer said.

He added business for the partners in the furniture academy (Century Furniture, Lee Industries, Lexington, Sherrill Furniture and Vanguard Furniture) is “solid,” and they can’t find enough skilled workers.

Diaz, who graduated last year from Challenger High, and Bryant, who graduated from Fred T. Foard, have family or a friend who already works at Lexington and told them about the training openings. The two didn’t hesitate to make the most of the opportunity.

“Not a lot of people our age get a chance to do what we do and make the kind of money we do,” Bryant said.

Along with the good pay and benefits, both trainees see the opportunity as a career choice.

Bryant also thinks it’s important to let the public know there are jobs like these in the county. People just have to look for them and then be willing to make the most of the opportunity.

“There are kids who just don’t want to work, and I don’t see how you couldn’t want to better yourself,” Bryant said. “I know many people who have had an opportunity to go into an apprenticeship, not necessarily this one, and they threw it away.”

Diaz was eager to be part of the training program precisely because he saw it as a path to a good future.

“A lot of people make really great livings by working here and it depends on the kind of person you are. A lot of kids these days want to grow up to be rappers and have all these cool jobs,” Diaz said. “They have to realize these jobs are still going to exist in sixty years and if you’re good at it you can keep moving up.”

Lexington Home Brands is a global leader in the design, sourcing, manufacturing and lifestyle marketing of upscale home furnishings, according to Lexington.com.

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