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GRCC helps grow local industrial sewing workforce

Students learn skills in the Industrial Sewing field at GRCC. Photo by Jonathan D. Lopez
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Marilynn Reese assisting Gerome Gaie on an industrial sewing machine.

By Victoria Thornton – Collegiate Staff

As it has advanced in to it’s second circuit, Grand Rapids Community College offers an industrial sewing program costing students just $35. With funding from JP Morgan Chase and Company, Camille Metzger heads the course, located in the Steepletown neighborhood.

This semester’s course began January 27 and contains 8 students, who will complete the 120-hour program.

“It is really interesting work but it’s pretty fast paced because it’s in a manufacturing setting,” said Julie Parks, director of GRCC Workforce Training and the Tassell M-TEC facility.

In the 1990s the industrial sewing workforce went overseas. Companies nationwide are now seeking to rebuild it in the U.S. due to a number of production problems and a higher demand for American-made goods. While the heart of the new age of manufacturing is auto machinery, there are many aspects that still require a human for completion.

Joe Aldrich, 67, is currently employed with a local industrial sewing company called Hex Armor, after completing the new course this past fall.

“The course provides education and training in the fundamentals of sewing as well as good information about the sewing industry and careers in sewing,” Aldrich said. “Industrial sewing is in great demand in the West Michigan area and those with this skill are welcomed with open arms.”

GRCC’s program is only the second of it’s kind in Michigan. The industry’s job opportunities are continuously increasing for students who successfully complete the course.

“It takes time and ambition but everything comes together in the end,” said Maria Guillen, a GRCC student enrolled in the sewing course.

In October 2014, planning began when The Right Place and Lakeshore Advantage, economic development agencies for West Michigan, joined 10 area employers in requesting an industrial sewing course.

Steepletown Neighborhood Services and Blue Marble Threads provided the machines and contributed to the development of the curriculum. A $30,000 grant from JP Morgan helped expand the course with the investment of more sewing machines, and lowered the cost to just $35.

It is to be stressed that the course is not a stereotypical course for sewing clothing or garments. Students will intensively learn the industry with a syllabus incorporating math, measuring, sewing, production, safety, and operation of the equipment.

“The students see parts of chairs, large bags for boxcars, leather, canvas, burlap,” Parks said. “They sew on yachts. Many varied items.” With the expected growth of the industry throughout 2015, jobs are predicted to be in no scarce form with wages ranging $9 to $21 an hour.

At the close of the course manufacturing employers will review the students work throughout the course for potential hire.

“If you work hard,” said Claudine Muhungu, a GRCC student taking the course. “You get rewarded with these opportunities.” The success of this program has been a community achievement with members that have collaborated to advance the industrial sewing workforce and lead people to an ideal career.

“It’s great to help someone find a career they love,” Parks said.


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