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Textile Industry Job Descriptions, Careers in the Textile Industry, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Industry, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

The textile industry is one of the largest industries in the United States; in 2004 it employed about 416,000 people. Most textile mills manufacture clothing, but many produce household linens such as towels, sheets, and tablecloths. Other products include ribbons, webbings, and tapes used to make automobile seat belts and shoulder harnesses, conveyor belts, carpets, draperies, flags, disposable clothing, and automobile upholstery. Textile products are sold to retail outlets or to other manufacturers that make finished products.

Textile mills are located in nearly every state, but the industry is concentrated in the southeastern states. North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia together employ more than half of all textile workers. The northeastern states and California are also centers for some types of textiles. Most employees in the textile industry are production workers. Some do handwork, but most operate machines. In some cases, a worker may have several or even hundreds of machines to operate.

Textile mills use a variety of raw materials. Cotton and synthetic fibers such as nylon or polyester are the most widely used fibers. Other natural fibers including wool and linen are also used. The process of creating finished textiles from raw materials consists of many steps. Some of the basic steps are spinning, weaving or knitting, dyeing, and finishing. Some mills do all these steps, while others do one or two. Many of these steps are now done with computers, which have greatly decreased the amount of time it takes to complete the production process.

The textile production process begins with the preparation of the fibers for spinning. Fibers are combed and carded, and short fibers are removed. Fibers are drawn out into long pieces that look like rope to make them stronger. Many different kinds of textile workers run the machinery that does this work. They feed and start the machines, stop them, clean them, and repair broken fiber ends.

Most employees in the textile industry are production workers who operate one machine, several machines, or hundreds of machines. Textile products include clothing, household linens, carpets, flags, and upholstery materials.) (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.

These workers are called opener tenders, picker tenders, card tenders, drawing frame tenders, and roving tenders.

Frame spinners operate machines that spin the fiber into yarn. These machines draw out and twist the ropes of fiber into yarn, which is wound around cones called bobbins. Frame spinners manage rows of spinning frames. They twist the fiber ends, repair breaks in the fiber ropes, and clean the machines regularly.

Once the fibers have been spun into yarn, the yarn is ready for weaving or knitting. These are two different processes that require different kinds of machinery and are usually done in separate plants. Most textiles are woven. Several different kinds of workers prepare the yarn for weaving. They include loom winder tenders, spooler tenders, warper tenders, slasher tenders, and warp tying machine tenders. These workers place the yarn on the machines and thread it into place. They tie yarn ends and monitor the machines to make sure they are running properly. When the yarn is finished, they remove it and send it on to the weavers. Weavers are skilled workers who sometimes run as many as 200 looms at a time. The looms weave or interlace the yarn at right angles to make woven cloth. Sometimes there are as many as 2,000 looms in a single weaving room. The weavers watch the looms, fix breaks in the cloth, and repair minor problems with the looms. Major repairs or adjustments are made by loom fixers.

Many different types of textiles are being knitted every year. Highly skilled knitter mechanics set up metal patterns in knitting machines. The machines can produce bolts of fabric or finished garments such as underwear or stockings. Knitting machines have a series of needles that loop the yarn together. Knitting machine operators load the machines with yarn. They must tie broken yarn ends and watch their machines closely. Each worker usually tends several machines at a time. Knitting machine fixers are called in to fix the machines if they break down.

Once textiles have been either woven or knitted, they are ready for dyeing and finishing. The formulas used to dye textiles are developed by dyers. Other workers such as dye weighers and dye ranger operators mix the chemicals and dyes and run the machines that dye and dry the fabrics. Textiles are often printed with patterns. Printing can be done in several different ways. In one method known as rotary screen printing, a screen cylinder allows just the right amount of dye to come through onto the fabric and print the design. Colorists, screen printing artists, screen makers, and screen printers are needed to print designs on textiles. After the fabrics are dyed and printed, they are often finished to keep them from shrinking, wrinkling, or soiling easily. Special workers operate and maintain the machines that take care of these processes.

Besides the many different kinds of production workers, the textile industry also employs specially trained artists, professionals, and technical workers. Textile designers decide the type of weave and the thread count of a woven fabric or the design to be knit into a knitted fabric. They choose the fiber content of the yarn, and the finish, color, or printed design. Textile engineers are usually supervisors or managers. They may be in charge of an entire textile mill or of one system in a plant. Textile technicians hold a variety of different jobs. Some work on the electronic controls of complex knitting machines. Others help research and develop new ways of processing fibers. Many technicians work in the dyeing and finishing departments of textile mills. In addition, the textile industry employs those who work in management, clerical, and maintenance jobs.

Education and Training Requirements

Most production jobs in the textile industry can be learned in a few weeks to several months. Employers generally prefer to hire people who have a high school education. While some mills start new workers as the helpers of experienced employees, others hold formal classes for the newly hired. There are a few special apprenticeship programs for weavers, dyers, loom fixers, and other specialized workers. These programs may take from two to four years to complete, and they usually combine classroom instruction with on-the-job training.

Textile technicians often get their jobs after several years of experience as machine operators. In other cases, they qualify for the job after graduating from a two-year college or technical school that offers training in textile technology. Professional workers such as designers, engineers, and managers usually need to be college graduates. There are several colleges and technical institutes that offer special programs in textile engineering, textile management, textile design, and textile chemistry. Also, many textile companies provide special training programs for college graduates.

Getting the Job

The best way to get started in a production job in the textile industry is by applying directly to textile mills. Your state employment office may know of job openings. Sometimes companies list openings in newspaper want ads or post job openings on a sign outside the plant. Your school placement office may also be able to help you find a job.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Production workers in the textile industry can advance by becoming supervisors of other workers. Some become instructors who teach new workers to run machinery. Others become technicians. Most companies have training programs for workers who want to move into more skilled jobs. Sometimes textile companies pay part or all of the tuition for job-related courses.

Textile technicians can also move into jobs as supervisors or instructors. With further education, they can become managers or engineers. Managers and engineers sometimes advance into high-level executive positions in the textile industry.

The job outlook in the textile industry is poor through 2014. Although the demand for textiles is likely to increase, competition from foreign imports and the use of synthetic fibers and computer-integrated machinery are expected to limit the number of new jobs. Those with technical skills and computer training should have the best opportunities.

Working Conditions

Working conditions are generally good in the textile industry. Newer mills have temperature and humidity controls, while older mills may have inadequate lighting and poor ventilation. Most employees work with machinery, which is often noisy, but the accident rate is fairly low in the textile industry. The work-week is usually forty hours long, although some workers, especially those in the southeastern states, work forty-six to forty-eight hours per week. Most textile mills have around-the-clock operations and run three shifts. The work is generally steady in the textile industry. When production slowdowns occur, most mills shut down for one or two days a week instead of laying off workers. Only about 7 percent of all apparel and textile workers belonged to labor unions in 2004.

Where to Go for More Information

American Textile Manufacturers Institute
1130 Connecticut Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20036-3954
(202) 862-0500

275 Seventh Ave.
New York, NY 10001-6708
(212) 265-7000

Earnings and Benefits

Wages for textile production workers depend on the job, the kind of plant, and the location. Some workers are paid according to the number of finished products, but most receive an hourly wage. Benefits often include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesManufacturing & Production