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Furniture Industry Upholstery Jobs Go Begging

High demand for upholstered furniture, plus low interest among the workforce, are the reasons upholsterers are a premium.

MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) - In an industry that has been laying off workers, upholsterers are the exception.
Local furniture manufacturers say they have a hard time finding people willing to do the work. They say high demand for upholstered furniture, plus low interest among the workforce, are the reasons upholsterers are a premium.
To attract more workers, local economic development officials held an orientation session last week. About 100 laid off furniture and textile workers attended, plus industry and economic officials.
Joyce Snead, manager of the Virginia Employment Commission office in Martinsville, said in her 10-plus years in the office she has found upholstery jobs to be among the hardest vacancies to fill.
While she isn't sure why, Snead suspects people have misconceptions about upholstery—primarily that it's a dirty job.
Snead and industry officials can't say how many upholstery jobs go begging, but companies have told her ''we'll take all we can get.''
Shenandoah Furniture Inc. employee Will Robinson has held several jobs he considered to be dirty, but upholstery is not one of them, he said.
Shenandoah, American of Martinsville and A C Furniture were to participate in the orientation last week. Tours of the companies were offered, and applications for work were available.
''If people can see what the job entails, maybe that will attract people to'' upholstery jobs, Snead said.
Unlike other aspects of the industry, upholstery cannot be outsourced because of the skill involved.
Upholstery workers have the potential of earning $35,000 to $40,000 per year, said Kim Adkins, executive director of the Workforce Investment Board.
A training program generally takes about six to nine months to complete, but that can vary from person to person, said Beverly Riddle, human resource manager for American of Martinsville.
''We have had our program going for about a year and a half,'' Riddle said. ''But we need to find people that can learn and do this process from beginning to end. Upholstery is not for everyone, and we are trying to let them be aware that.''
Upholsterers get paid based on how many pieces of furniture they complete. Different styles of furniture have different rates, said Phil Payne, executive vice president of Shenandoah Furniture.
''It is an incentive-based job,'' he said. ''The potential is there to make a decent living, but not everybody is cut out to do'' the work.
Shenandoah employees said the job can be mentally as well as physically demanding.
Pete Taylor, a 25-year upholsterer for the company, said the job requires manual dexterity, plus patience and an ability to pay close attention to the task at hand.
Some heavy lifting may be necessary, Payne said, although he said Shenandoah has ''lift tables'' to help workers lift heavy furniture.
Many who attended last week's workshop were interested in immediate work.
William Johnson, 55, of Leatherwood, was laid off from Bassett Furniture Co. this month. He had worked in the cabinet department for 21 years.
''It looks similar to what we did over at Bassett,'' Johnson said. ''They use a lot of the same tools, but its completely different from the process we do. We mostly were working with wood assembly at Bassett.''
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