Early in my career I wrote a feature story on skilled trades that were fast dying out, such as watch and clock repair. These days the typically male worker who doesn’t go to college and who likes to work with his hands is more likely to take a technology-based job, such as setting up your Internet connection or installing home theater systems. Things like watch and shoe repair are largely dependent on our immigrant workforce. Same goes for anything that has to do with tailoring.
On Wednesday a story popped up in my newsfeed called “Why Brooks Brothers Is Investing In Veteran Tailors.” Brooks still owns and operates a factory in Long Island City, which is located just across the East River from Brooks Brothers‘ Madison Avenue headquarters. All the brand’s neckties are made there, and alterations done, by a skilled but aging workforce. Here’s the article’s description of the employees:
Though the factory’s 222 employees range in age from 22 to 80, more than half are 55 or older. The average tenure is 30 years. The plant is an example of age diversity, providing a glimpse of where the U.S. workplace may soon be heading as the population ages. Almost 20 percent of Americans 65 or older were employed last year, up from 12 percent a decade ago. More seniors are keeping their jobs beyond traditional retirement age, because they want to continue working and often need the income. At the same time, manufacturers, retailers, and even legacy technology companies are rediscovering the value of older, more seasoned workers and are taking steps to keep them.
Coincidentally, yesterday I picked up Brooks’ new primavera catalog, which also includes an article about Brooks’ Long Island City factory and “arguably America’s most skilled and knowledgeable necktie labor force.” It concludes:
… Brooks Brothers recently renewed its lease there, ensuring that the company’s ties will continue to come from that same unassuming building in Queens — and that the brand’s commitment to domestic production will continue to buck the industry trend.
As America’s workforce overall is graying, cheers to Brooks for employing — and paying a premium — for these older workers. In fact, in December Brooks won an Age Smart Award from a program affiliated with Columbia University (the Wall Street Journal wrote about it here). Let’s hope Brooks can also attract and train the next generation of needle artisans. — CC