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A Day in the Life of a Textile Manufacturer

A textile manufacturer supervises workers who make products that contain fibers, such as clothing, tires, yarn, and insulation. Whatever the industry, the task of a textiles manufacturer is the same: To oversee the conversion of a raw product (either natural or man-made fibers) into usable goods. Successful textile manufacturers plan multistage projects, work with widely varying batches of raw material, maintain high quality levels, and get optimal output from workers. One textile manufacturer described himself as “one-third scientist, one-third problem-solver, and one-third quarterback.” Another described how he found this career: “I was looking for a job that would push me on a lot of levels-intellectually, physically, emotionally-and I’ve found it.” Those who can juggle the innumerable duties this job entails will find a comfortable home in textile manufacturing. Some fibers are manufactured or milled from plants, spun into yarn and then, depending on the end product, further altered through tufting, weaving, or knitting. Others have to be pulped, washed, and spun-dry. Fibers must also be blended, wound, and stored before the dyeing, matching, or finishing takes place. At each stage in the process, textile manufacturers have to oversee a group of workers who specialize in that area of production. “Each section thinks they’re the most important to the process, and if you try to tell them otherwise, you’ve got trouble,” said one New Jersey manufacturer. A number of respondents noted that the people skills they use on the job every day are their most critical asset. “I thought I was a manufacturer, not a babysitter,” quipped one executive. Still, only those who can manage people effectively make it in this field. Many respondents said the best part of the job is the challenge; they cited dealing with uneven lots of raw materials and final products, meeting tight deadlines, coordinating production (sometimes a twenty-four-hour-a-day staff), and shipping final goods. Others said they liked having a tangible product of their labor. “I drive down a stretch of road I supplied with threaded tarbase,” said one happy executive, “and I point it out to my kid.” This satisfaction is common among those who thrive amid the multiple-task demands of this profession.

Paying Your Dues

Textiles manufacturers don’t need any specific academic degree, but many employers value a college education that emphasizes a facility with numbers and an ability to plan. Experience that demonstrates an ability to lead production teams is also highly valued. The scientific aspects of the job-understanding the nuances of creating a finished textile product from raw, unpredictable materials-are nearly always learned on the job. Textile manufacturers have to know their machines, which are fast-moving, dangerous, and subject to frequent breakdown. Those who wish to have job mobility should gain broad experience; exposure to different methods of production increases a person’s chances of being able to jump into a new job.

Present and Future

Wool, linen, and silk fabrics dating as far back as 2,500 B.C. have been found. Many people milled their own clothes until the industrial revolution, when Eli Whitney’s cotton gin made the mass-production of cotton-based cloth an economic reality in the southern United States. Man-made fibers, either wrinkle-resistant, fire-resistant, or shrink-resistant, were the next breakthrough in the industry. The modern use of fibers in non-clothing products is important because these fibers increase flexibility and durability while reducing weight. The future of textile manufacturing is uncertain. Automation is eliminating many of the jobs of unskilled textile machinists. Managers will continue to be hired at the same or even a slightly increased pace, yet their responsibilities will become more technical and more clerical. Many important skills will become less important: Communication skills and motivation skills, for example. For the textile manufacturer of the future, computer skills, mechanical aptitude, and inventory control skills will be the hallmark of success.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

Many are assistant supervisors or assistant manufacturers, learning about the elements of the manufacturing process and how they interact. Many watch their supervisors not only to learn technical skills but also to learn how they manage people. Hours are regular; salaries are low; satisfaction is high. The majority of those who leave the profession-20 percent-leave in the first two years.

FIVE YEARS OUT

Five-year veterans are manufacturing executives, in charge of a shift or an area of production. Many are in charge of one discrete part of the process, such as quality control. Others’ duties are more wide-ranging, shepherding shipments from mill to cloth. Hours increase, salaries increase, and the percentage of people who leave the profession drops to 10 percent. Satisfaction is high.

TEN YEARS OUT

Ten-year professionals see the scope of their responsibilities increase. Many run large plants or coordinate entire shifts of workers. Those who make the transition to sales or management usually do so between years 11 and 15, when the loud sound of the weaving floor starts to get to them. Hours stabilize; satisfaction is high. Many take pleasure in teaching their skills to new hires.