Gov. Phil Bryant admitted last week that several years ago, he didn’t quite know the extent of the impact the furniture industry had in Northeast Mississippi. But after some visits to the area, he saw firsthand the role furniture makers have in the region and across the state.
The governor isn’t alone – most Mississippians outside Northeast Mississippi don’t know much about the furniture industry either.
Bryant was in town last week to help announce the creation of the Furniture Academy, which seeks to provide new and old furniture employees some critical training.
The 28-hour program, which is an introduction to furniture manufacturing, also includes training in teamwork and problem solving, developing work ethic and gaining financial awareness and life skills. Classes will be taught at Itawamba Community College and Northeast Mississippi Community College, which will set up the schedule based on the needs of those signing up in the program.
Funded through a $250,000 grant from the state, the Furniture Academy begins Feb. 13, with a goal of signing up 300 people.
Bill Martin, the director of the Franklin Furniture Institute at Mississippi State University, said organizers sought the input of industry leaders in designing the program.
“We talked about maybe offering a cut-and-sew class, for example, but everybody does it a little differently,” he said.
Indeed, while there may be a template of sorts to build a sofa or a recliner, not everybody does it the same way.
So when they polled furniture companies, leaders said their employees – present and future – needed some basic skills training. And that’s why there are classes like work ethic and financial awareness.
To some it may seem odd that you have to teach people to come to work on time and to do what you’re supposed to do. But the reality is the generation of workers that jump-started the furniture industry nearly six decades ago worked very hard to help this region become the upholstered furniture capital of the world. Not all of today’s workers are like that, unfortunately.
Judging by the number of employment ads placed by furniture companies, we know they’re hiring.
Yes, some of that demand for labor is because of turnover, but some of it is due to growth as well. Companies are looking for qualified employees looking to work.
And those who finish the Furniture Academy will not only get to the front of the line when it comes to applying for those jobs, they’ll also get extra pay if hired. The average hourly rate varies from company to company, and it’s up to each business to decide what’s appropriate.
According to the Franklin Furniture Institute, the average annual salary of a furniture worker is about $32,000. The median salary in Mississippi is about $37,000.
For now, only five manufacturers are participating in the program: H.M. Richards of Baldwyn, Homestretch in Nettleton, Kevin Charles Furniture in New Albany, Max Home of Fulton and Iuka and Southern Motion of Pontotoc and Baldwyn. The five companies alone employ some 3,000 workers combined.
Academy leaders hope and want more companies to join this coalition.
A rising tide lifts all ships, as the saying goes. The furniture industry is competitive, but the players all need a deeper pool of candidates to continue the path of growth.
Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or firstname.lastname@example.org