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July 1, 2007
LANCASTER, S.C. - The 750 Springs textile workers who found out last week that they will be losing their jobs this summer will find an empathetic ear when they go to look for retraining and another job.
Angie Hunter was in their shoes just two years ago when her job at the Springs Customer Service Center in Lancaster went away.
Hunter, 39, is now a program assistant at the Lancaster County Workforce Development Center, helping people who are out of work.
"Those people have no idea what they're gonna do," Hunter said of the workers at the Grace and Close plants who were told last week their jobs will move to South America in August. "I've been there; I know what it's like."
Springs, which has manufactured bedding in South Carolina for 120 years, will employ about 700 people in the state after the closings. That's down from 14,000 workers during its heyday in 1992, the company said.
"I'm living proof that there's life after Springs," Hunter said. "You've just gotta keep your head up and realize the past is water under the bridge."
The key for those workers, whose industry is disappearing in the United States, is to get retrained, said Janet Thomasson, director of the Chester County Workforce Development Center.
"Most folks are going to need some training, even if it's just some basic computer skills," she said. "Many of these folks are people who have worked for years and years and never had to look for a job."
The work force centers can help displaced workers get their high school diplomas, enroll in classes at local technical schools and colleges and help them create resumes and prepare for job interviews.
"When you've been a supervisor in a mill, a good job, for 30 years, it's hard to step back and say, 'I don't have my high school diploma,' " said Danelle Faulkenberry, education director at the Fort Lawn Community Center. She said more than half of textile workers who started their jobs as teenagers years ago never got a high school diploma.
Thomasson said the high number of recent layoffs has launched plans to offer some basic computer classes through the center. The goal is to get people ready for a new job before their severance packages run out.
One avenue for getting textile employees back to work quickly is machinery maintenance, said Dean Campbell, a recruiter for Michelin Tires.
"If you have technical skills, they're marketable almost anywhere," he said.
Another popular career for former textile workers is truck driving, said Don Crisp, regional director for the Carolina Driving Institute who went into the trucking industry after being laid off from a North Carolina mill years ago.
"I'd hire 50 people today if I could find them," he said. "Every carrier is begging for drivers."
Pay starts at $600 a week, said Linda Vastag, a recruiter for Carolina Cargo, a trucking company in Rock Hill and Chester.
"Carriers can't get people fast enough," Crisp said. "And it's not because people are leaving. The freight industry is just growing that fast."