Labor and Technology Changes in the North American Woodworking Industry

The woodworking industry in the United States and Canada is facing challenges related to its workforce and its adoption of technology. On one hand, American woodworking companies are enjoying the continuous and gradual economic recovery that has been unfolding over the last few years; on the other hand, Canadian companies are facing a shortage of skilled workers while they consider the prospect of adding new machinery.

According to the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, an Indiana newspaper, Sauder Manufacturing Co. is seeking to expand its operations with a new woodworking facility in New Haven. The idea is to invest $3 million to build a new shop that will employ 60 production workers by 2021.

Sauder Manufacturing currently operates five woodworking shops dedicated to making furniture for various industries. The company is confident that it will be able to find the skilled employees it needs in northeast Indiana. Most of the furniture made by Sauder is purchased by hospitals, schools and churches. As expected, the company will receive subsidies and tax benefits from the Indiana Economic Development Corporation for the purpose of guaranteeing the hiring of local woodworkers.

In Canada, the Architectural Woodwork Manufacturers Association has observed an employment trend that seems promising for their industry as young people are showing interest in woodworking careers. Over the last few decades, Canadian shops have been forced to convince their veteran workers to postpone retirement because younger workers were not enthusiastic about this trade.

Times are changing in Canada thanks to the arrival of advanced machinery. It so happens that younger woodworkers are attracted to the prospect of operating state-of-the-art machinery, and the tech angle is fueling this interest.

Not long ago, Canadian woodworking shops with 10 production workers kept about 30 traditional machines. These days, only one or two workers are assigned to modern routers powered by Microvellum software. The difference nowadays is that advanced machinery requires one highly skilled operator; there is no longer a need to hire workers familiar with multiple machines.

Naturally, some shop owners in Canada are having a hard time finding experts who can operate modern machines. When they do find these individuals, they tend to be younger.