With but few exceptions organized training for machine operating is found only in the largest establishments. There is general agreement among employers that it takes a girl who has never operated a machine before about four weeks to learn an easy operation well enough to be taken on at regular piece rates. A much longer time is required to become a first class worker on a single operation, and to acquire skill in a group of operations takes from one to two years.
Girls are not usually employed as hand sewers unless they know how to do plain sewing. A girl who starts with this knowledge should be able to learn factory sewing well enough to earn fair wages within from six months to a year.
In cutting, which has a so-called apprenticeship lasting from two to six years, there is no formal system of instruction. Boys must pick up the trade from observation and practice. Beginners start as errand boys, cloth boys, bundlers, or helpers.
Pressing is usually learned in cleaning and pressing shops. It takes about eight weeks for a green hand to become a good seam presser. To become a final presser on skirts and dresses requires from six months to a year, and on jackets and cloaks from two to three years.
Examiners have usually had considerable previous experience as machine operators or finishers. The length of experience depends on the kinds of garments and ranges from three to eight years.
Trimmers and assorters learn their work as helpers to experienced employees. A year or so of experience is required before they can be entrusted with responsible work.
Foremen are selected from the working force or, in a few cases, trained especially for their positions. Although there are few opportunities each year for advancement to foremanship, employers declare they cannot get enough persons of ability to fill vacancies. A study of the previous experience of foremen and forewomen made by the survey shows that they come from nearly every department of the factory. The length of previous experience among the cases studied ranged from three months to nine years.
The quality which proprietors of garment making establishments value above all others in their employees is adaptability. The reason for this is that the manufacturing of clothing differs from almost all other kinds of industrial work in the frequency with which changes take place in the size and shape of the product and in the range of materials which must be handled by the same workers. There is an annual change in the weight of cloth used for the different seasons, from light to heavy and from heavy to light. The size and shape of the pieces which compose the finished garment are determined by changes in style which vary from the minor modifications occurring yearly in men’s clothing to the radical changes in the style of women’s clothing. A wide variety of fabrics is employed, ranging from thick to thin, smooth to rough, closely woven to loosely woven and from plain weave to fancy weave. In one season a single establishment will make garments from as many as 200 different fabrics, and each operator is likely to work upon 60 or more different kinds of cloth.