Bridging the textiles skills gap

The beauty of this moment in the American Textile Industry is that everyone, of all generations, has a chance to use the knowledge of our history and innovation of our future to create a stronger and better industry than we have ever known. The Carolina Textile District is working everyday to build these conversations and connections, and we believe the possibilities are endless.

“What do we do to change the mentality about what manufacturing is?”

“What do we do to change the mentality about what manufacturing is?” asks Dan St. Louis, CTD Founder and Director of the Manufacturing Solutions Center. “Technology has completely changed…folks think it is just like what it was back when I was in high school. We didn’t have computers back then. We didn’t have cell phones. Why would industry stay the same?”

“That’s what makes us get up,” added St. Louis. “How do we keep those jobs and keep that legacy going?”


The Textile District has been involved in many activities to encourage this shift in thinking. CTD leaders regularly partner with local school systems to take students on tours of manufacturing facilities. This exposes them to the manufacturing environment and often dispels the images of manufacturing that were painted for them by their parents and grandparents. This has also created relationships between textile companies and the school systems, which allow for deeper understanding of how schools can prepare students for the jobs available in our community.

During these conversations companies learned that the local school system, Burke County Public Schools, still teaches an Apparel and Design class; however, they saw small tweaks that could be made to the curriculum and equipment being utilized in the classroom that would better relate to jobs in industry. Leaders of the school system and the CTD have worked to secure donated industrial sewing machines for each high school and have found an instructor with over 20 years of industrial sewing experience to work with the students.


Beginning in Fall 2014 each Apparel and Design class includes a two-week Industrial Sewing curriculum where students learn how to sew with the industrial machines and gain an understanding of a production environment – including how to work in a team, how to conduct quality control checks, and what it means to work on production pay. Each two-week segment is paired with tours of local manufacturing facilities – giving these future young workers and leaders the opportunity to learn about jobs available in the community, and gain the skills necessary to obtain employment.

1. Work in a team

2. Quality control checks

3. Production pay

There are existing business owners that want to retire, and young entrepreneurs who can enter the industry as workers and leaders. We are working to show young people that there are jobs in manufacturing here, and that they’re creative and well-paid positions.