American furniture companies face a dearth of skilled workers to replace an aging workforce despite a healthy industry outlook.
Companies like Crate & Barrel and Williams-Sonoma are boosting their U.S. manufacturing, but training grounds like the Catawba Valley Furniture Academy can't churn out graduates fast enough, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Many young people eschewed the furniture industry fearing outsourcing to countries like China, but the upholstery furniture business is pretty safe in the U.S., where American-made products make up about half of the market, according to The Journal.
In addition, custom upholstery means hiring skilled workers, and it's difficult and expensive to ship the product from overseas, unlike all-wood furniture like tables or shelves.
The problem is illustrated in North Carolina's Catawba County, where the local community college is incentivized by the furniture industry to attract and teach potential workers.
Hickory, North Carolina, which is located in Catawba County, is home to Century Furniture. Deliveries can take more than two months because they just don't have enough workers, and the company is losing orders, The Journal reported.
"I walk around our factories every other day and am spooked by what I see," Alex Shuford III, chief executive of the company that owns Century and several other furniture brands, told The Journal. "The retirements are coming and I can't find enough people."
Century has about 35 job openings for sewers, upholsterers and other positions at any given week, The Journal reported.
The thriving job market in the state makes it harder to lock down employees, too. Catawba Valley Furniture Academy is competing with students who might be attracted to welding or other trades.
"The labor market is very tight in North Carolina," said Darryl Webster, executive at Williams-Sonoma, told The Journal. "I quickly realized that you need to be literally standing there before they graduate offering them a job."