Occupations in the sewing sector

There are numerous occupations which apply sewing skills – not only with respect to garments, but in other sectors as well. These include:

Garments, hats, gloves – manufacture and alteration

  • dressmaker
  • seamstress
  • tailor
  • industrial sewing machine operator
  • alterationist
  • custom furrier
  • furrier
  • glove maker
  • milliner/hatmaker

Other sewing applications

  • Draper
  • Home decor
  • Embroiderer
  • Leatherworker
  • Quilter
  • Sailmaker
  • Shoemaker
  • Upholsterer

A quick look at the Indeed Canada job search site indicates that there are numerous, entry-level positions available in garment and other factories for industrial sewing machine operators, beginning at the minimum wage level. Some of these employers offer training and do not require high school level education, but many are looking for experienced operators. The challenge for a newcomer interested in this type of work will be to find a first job that does not require prior industrial machine experience.

Sewing

Aside from factory work, there are also sewing opportunities in retail establishments, including clothing stores, cleaners, and repair/alteration services. Prior experience and demonstrated skills would in all likelihood be required by such employers.

A third option for a newcomer is to develop a home-based enterprise, either producing his or her own products, or for example, offering repairs and alterations.

According to the Labour Force Survey (2015), 51% of tailors, dressmakers, furriers and milliners across Canada were self-employed, while the average for all occupations was 14%. Also across Canada, 70% in these occupations worked full-time, compared to the average of 81% for all occupations.

According to the National Household Survey (2011), women represented 85% in this category across Canada, compared to the average of 48% for all occupations.

Sewn Goods Sector Focus Group Report

A very worthwhile read, for newcomers interested in a sewing work is the 15-page, Sewn Goods Sector Focus Group Report, which was created by EcoEquitable in October, 2018. This report is based upon focus groups that were conducted in Ottawa. However, it gives a very good overview of the sewn goods sector in Canada, discussing types of jobs; recruitment/job seeking tools and methods; most desirable knowledge, skills and attitudes; challenges and barriers; and additional support that would help. The section on this report on job seeking may be especially useful, as it describes the use of job boards as not being effective or as providing negative results.

Canada Goose – Industrial Sewing Machine Operator

The following job description for an industrial sewing machine operator, which was posted online in 2019 by Canada Goose for positions in Winnipeg, is likely a good indication of what similar manufacturers are seeking:

Position Overview:

  • Reporting to the Sewing Supervisor, you will play a critical role in helping to produce outerwear according to the high standards of quality Canada Goose is known for all over the world.

Key Responsibilities:

  • Work as part of a larger team to complete a garment
  • Sew various parts of a garment including, but not limited to, pockets, flaps, plackets, zippers, hoods and sleeves as well as lining to shell according to the given specification and appearance
  • Assess the quality of garment pieces before sewing to ensure garments are up to Canada Goose quality standards
  • Ensure sewing is done according to CG’s quality standards (measurements, appearance, etc.)
  • Ensure individual productivity quotas are met or exceeded on a daily basis, while at the same time maintaining Canada Goose quality standards
  • Learn new operations to achieve company goals of 100% efficiency or more
  • Adhere to Canada Goose rules, regulations and code of conduct

Education, Qualifications and Experience:

  • 2-3 years’ sewing experience, preferably in apparel manufacturing industry
  • Experience on single needle, double needle and seam serger machines
  • Experience on specialty machines considered a definite asset
  • Experience joining sections of garments into a finished product

Knowledge, Skills and Attributes:

  • Must be able to work independently in a fast paced environment
  • Arm-hand steadiness (the ability to keep the hand and arm steady while running fabric through a machine)
  • Manual dexterity (the ability to quickly make coordinated movements with one or both hands to manipulate fabric)
  • Control precision (the ability to quickly and repeatedly make precise adjustments in operating the foot controls of a machine)

Working Conditions:

  • Manufacturing environment
  • Sitting and/or standing

In the Fall of 2018, Canada Goose opened its third factory in Winnipeg and had plans to hire over 500 people between 2018-2020, including sewing machine operators, material handlers and laminators. On average, their applicants were said to be trained and working within 55 days. In the GTA, Canada Goose holds frequent hiring information sessions, as it aggressively seeks to recruit there, as well.

Value of English language proficiency

Whether working in a factory or a in a small shop, sufficient English language proficiency is likely to be required in order for a newcomer to understand instructions and any training and to be able to ask questions and communicate concerns (unless he or she is able to find an employer who speaks the same language.) For this purpose, CLB 3 or 4 may be sufficient.

For newcomers considering developing their own home-based, sewing enterprises, sufficient English will be required to market and sell their goods and to deal with all of the paperwork associated with self-employment.

Regulation and certification

There is currently no certification required in Ontario to work in sewing.

Training programs for newcomers

Programs in the GTA

At present, there are only occasional, occupation-specific programs in the GTA for sewing, while there are there no formal apprenticeship programs.

In Mississauga, Brampton, and Oakville, an organization called Indus Community Services, offers a Sewing and Alterations Program for Newcomers, which is not restricted to refugee newcomers. This is a 15-week program that includes both in-class training and work placement. It is tailored specifically to meet the needs of newcomers who have some basic sewing skills or an interest in sewing and alterations.  It aims to spark the entrepreneurial spirit by providing the skills, knowledge and language to start their own sewing and alterations business.

There was an entry-level program in central Toronto for Syrian refugee women, called Darzee, which was organized by Mes Amis. This program helped “develop and hone sewing skills with the immediate objective of marketing this skill to the community at large as a means of earning income.” However, that program has been inactive since 2017.

Newcomer Women’s Services Toronto launched a new program in the Spring of 2019, called SEW NEW. This new program replaced a previous version run by the same organization, that was called “SEW IT”. Like the previous version, it was open to women only and, like Darzee, was focused on developing self-employment capabilities. Business development and coaching was provided by Enactus Ryerson. However, only two sessions wereplanned, with openings for only 10 or 11 participants in each session. As of January, 2020, this program appears to be on hiatus.

For more information, consult our Programs database and click on “sewing” under the “sector” filter.

Programs in Winnipeg

In Winnipeg, One Nation Exchange teaches women to sew, while providing child care and a space to make friends. This is a social enterprise focused on creating opportunities for intercultural exchange, training, and employment for women representative of Canada’s diverse cultures. See the link below to the  November, 2018, CBC story on this program.

Also in Winnipeg is  The Cutting Edge, which manufactures bags and other products. This is also a social enterprise, offering a training program to help newcomer women attain sewing skills to fill up the deficit in sewing industry, promote fair-trade production, entrepreneurial spirit and sustainable development.

Job market outlook

The number of sewing-based jobs in the GTA is not likely to increase over the coming years and there may be an over-supply of job-seekers for positions available.