by Rachel Vilsack
Real estate agents say that a house feels more like a home when there is furniture in it, making it easier to sell. Central Minnesota is home to more than one-fourth of the state’s employment in furniture and related product manufacturing, including one-third of the state’s jobs in kitchen cabinet manufacturing.
Through 2012, the 13-county Central Minnesota region was home to 122 furniture manufacturing establishments, providing 2,285 jobs and just under $94 million in total payroll. The industry has seen its ups and downs. From 2002 to 2006 total employment in kitchen cabinet manufacturing grew twice as fast in Central Minnesota (23.4 percent) as in the state of Minnesota as a whole. But as the housing market cooled off, the sector saw job losses into 2010. As the housing industry has recovered and building has restarted, kitchen cabinet manufacturing has started to grow again. Jobs in Central Minnesota jumped 27.4 percent from 2010 to 2012, which was more than five times faster than the state as a whole.
Job seekers may be interested because many of the jobs available in the sector require a high school diploma or less and short- to moderate-term on-the-job training, yet pay above-average wages and have above-average growth rates. More than half of the top occupations in demand are projected to grow faster than average in Central Minnesota, including the five occupations most closely tied to the industry:
- Woodworking machine operators
- Sawing machine operators
- Cabinetmakers and bench carpenters
As an example, cabinetmakers and bench carpenters earn a median hourly wage of $16.86 in Central Minnesota, compared to $16.14 for the total of all occupations, and are expected to grow 31.5 percent from 2010 to 2020, which is 13 percent faster than the total of all occupations. Entry-level cabinetmakers and bench carpenters typically need a high school diploma or equivalent, as well as three months to one year of on-the-job training.
A high school education and one year of training can get a worker in the door, but new technology and more sophisticated machinery require workers to continue with their training. Becoming a skilled woodworker often takes three or more years, with workers needing to read blueprints, set up machines, and plan work sequences.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, “people seeking woodworking jobs can enhance their employment and advancement prospects by completing high school and getting training in computer applications and math.”
Job analysis shows that some woodworkers further their education at technical schools or community colleges, while others attend postsecondary training in wood technology, furniture manufacturing, wood engineering, and production management, all of which become more important as woodworking technology advances.
A full version of this article, authored by Cameron Macht, appreared in the December issue of Minnesota Employment Review.