All Things Political

Textile and Apparel Industry Job Outlook

supplemental resource: Job Outlook by Profession

Jobs in textile, textile product, and apparel manufacturing will continue to decline rapidly as advances in manufacturing technology allow fewer workers to produce greater output, and growing imports compete with domestically made textile and apparel products.

Wage and salary employment in the textile, textile product, and apparel manufacturing industries is expected to decline by 48 percent through 2018, compared with a projected increase of 11 percent for all industries combined.

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Increasing investment in technology by textile mills, and the resulting increase in labor productivity, is the major reason for the projected decline in employment in the textile mills sector. Wider looms, robotics, new methods for making textiles that do not require spinning or weaving, and the application of computers to various processes result in fewer workers being needed to produce the same amount of textile products. Companies are also continuing to open new, more modern plants, which use fewer workers, while closing older, less efficient ones. As this happens, overall demand for textile machine operators and material handlers will continue to decline, but demand for those who have the skills to operate the more advanced machines will grow.

Changing trade regulations are the single most important factor influencing future employment patterns. Because the apparel manufacturing sector is labor intensive, it is especially vulnerable to import competition from nations in which workers receive lower wages. In 2005, quotas for apparel and textile products were lifted among members of the World Trade Organization, including most U.S. trading partners and, in particular, China. Although some bilateral quotas have been re-imposed between the United States and China, the expiration of quotas in 2005 has allowed more apparel and textile products to be imported into the United States. Because many U.S. firms will continue to move their assembly operations to low-wage countries, this trend is likely to affect the jobs of lower skilled machine operators most severely. It does not, however, have as adverse an effect on the demand for some of the pre-sewing functions, such as designing, because much of the apparel will still be designed by American workers.

Continuing changes in the market for apparel goods will exert cost-cutting pressures that affect all workers in the textile and apparel industries. Consumers are becoming more price conscious, retailers are gaining more bargaining power with apparel producers, and increasing competition is limiting the ability of producers to pass on costs to consumers. Apparel firms are likely to respond by relying more on foreign production and boosting productivity through investments in technology and new work structures.

Apparel firms also continue to merge or consolidate to remain competitive. This trend continues to drive down the number of firms in this industry, which usually leads to job losses, especially in non-production areas. In the future, the apparel manufacturing sector will be dominated by highly efficient, profitable organizations that have developed their dominance through strategies that enable them to be among the lowest cost producers of apparel. Consolidation and mergers are likely to result in layoffs of some workers.

Some segments of the textile mill products sector, like industrial fabrics, carpets, and specialty yarns, are highly automated, innovative, and competitive on a global scale, so they will be able to expand exports as a result of more open trade. Other sectors, such as fabric for apparel, will be negatively affected, as a number of apparel manufacturers relocate production to other countries. Textile mills are likely to lose employment as a result. The expected increase in apparel imports will adversely affect demand for domestically produced textiles.

New technology will increase the apparel manufacturing sector's productivity, although it is likely to remain labor-intensive. The variability of cloth and the intricacy of the cuts and seams of the assembly process have been difficult to automate. Machine operators, therefore, will continue to perform most sewing tasks, and automated sewing will be limited to simple functions. In some cases, however, computerized sewing machines will increase the productivity of operators and reduce required training time.

Technology also is increasing the productivity of workers who perform other functions, such as designing, marking, cutting, and pressing. Computers and automated machinery will continue to raise productivity and reduce the demand for workers in these areas.

Despite the overall decline in employment, job prospects for skilled production workers, engineers, merchandisers, and designers should be fair as the industry evolves into one that primarily requires people with good communication skills, creativity, and who are skilled enough to operate today's high technology computer-operated machines. Further, many of the skills used in this industry are comparable to those in other manufacturing industries, so workers may move between industries depending on the opportunities available in their areas of specialty.

Competition is expected be keen for fashion designers, as many designers are attracted to the creativity and glamour associated with the occupation.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Career Guide to Industries, 2010-11 Edition

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