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Work & Careers | THE ROAD TO OPPORTUNITY / DENISE HAMILTON

New Program Will Help Garment Workers Sew Up High-Tech Jobs

The Industry Needs Skilled Employees to Operate Computers That Automate Factory Work

August 25, 1996|DENISE HAMILTON | Denise Hamilton is a freelance writer who is based in Los Angeles

With all the publicity surrounding garment industry sweatshops that pay substandard wages, it may come as welcome news to learn there are good jobs available in the industry for trained workers with high-tech skills.

The industry, which is rapidly automating its processes, needs workers who can operate the computers that do everything from plotting factory production flow to sizing garments.

Salaries for technology-trained workers start around $10 an hour and can reach $62,000 a year (almost $30 an hour) for those with experience.

Until recently, garment workers who wanted to move up from low-paid, unskilled positions into career path jobs had nowhere to turn for training unless they were employed by one of the leading manufacturers with an in-house program, according to Linda Wong, general counsel and chief financial officer of Rebuild LA.

That changed Tuesday, when Los Angeles Trade Technical College debuted California's first state-of-the-art facility to provide technology training for apparel and textile workers. The new facility has a total of 23 computer workstations. The college's previous program had just eight stations.

The new program will allow up to 235 students per semester to operate a computerized apparel production line and learn the other industry technology that will make them hot job prospects when they graduate.

Consider Daniel Manjarrez. The 25-year-old Angeleno was laid off several years ago from his job as a computer administrator. After four increasingly tense months of unemployment, Manjarrez heard about Trade Tech's program and enrolled in a computerized garment grading course where he learned to operate the sophisticated machinery used by today's manufacturers.

"I had been in that class a month when I found a job, and it completely turned my world around," said Manjarrez, who is now employed as a computer grader and marker for MBS, a Los Angeles company that makes sports uniforms. "What got me the job was that I knew how to handle the computer system."

The computerized training facility is the only one of its kind on the West Coast, said Sharon Tate, dean of academic affairs at Trade Tech, which worked with Rebuild LA to fund the program through a grant from IBM. Gerber Garment Technology Inc. and Lead Tech provided the software.

The aim is to create higher-paid jobs in the Los Angeles area, as well as to make Los Angeles more competitive as a fashion and apparel manufacturing center. Once students graduate, L.A. Trade Tech helps them find jobs through its extensive contacts in the garment industry.

Indeed, Tate said fashion manufacturers often call the college and ask administrators and instructors to recommend students for jobs. Industry mavens say the field is wide open for skilled employees who understand today's technology.

"We are only hiring people who have the skills or are trained on the equipment, and it's not easy to find," said Lonnie Kane, president of women's fashion company Karen Kane Inc., which has completely automated its production line. "Absolutely, it's the future, and we're starting from scratch."

The college, which is part of California's community college system, charges $13 for a unit of credit. L.A. Trade Tech already operates a well-respected apparel design and manufacturing training program. By installing the computer facility, the school will be able to add classes in automated garment pre-production, such as grading and making patterns, and computerized fashion and textile design.

Students will also study actual garment production, using computers to simulate factory flow and run-throughs of product lines, all tasks formerly done by hand.

Some students, such as Manjarrez, find jobs after several classes. Others complete the program and go on to jobs as designers, pattern makers, graders and production managers.

"There's a tremendous need in the industry," Tate said, "and we're filling it."

For additional information, contact Sharon Tate at LATT at (213) 744-9004 or e-mail her at tatesl@smtplink.laccd.edu

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