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Industry must work together to upskill technical workforce

Fashion businesses must collaborate to drive investment in technical skills to ensure the industry can deliver on the growing demand for UK clothing and footwear, experts said at a summit today.

Speaking at the Creative Skillset UK Fashion and Textiles Skills Summit in Nottingham, Paul Johnson, managing director of dyeing and finishing firm WT Johnson and Sons and chair of Creative Skillset’s Fashion and Textiles Skills Council, said good technology was not enough and the UK fashion industry needs more technically-skilled people.

“Machines are not enough; we need skilled people to get the best out of them, people who understand how to set the machines up and how to combine them. We work with natural products so you can’t guarantee consistent behaviour from the fabric, so we need experienced and skilled people to have a real creative advantage. All our people need to be decision makers when working with natural products.”

He highlighted challenges facing the sector such as an ageing workforce and the need to invest in skills now so they are not lost to future generations.

“There’s a big challenge in the skills landscape and all business sectors need to invest in their strategic support and delivery for the future,” he said. “We need to work together to come up with a good strategy and a well thought out industry plan to maximise all the support out there and speak with one voice.

“Fashion and textiles is hugely diverse, there are so many companies doing different things. We need the industry and education to collaborate more closely.”

He added it was vital to encourage more people to enter the industry by establishing clear entry and progression routes for skilled workers.

Kate O’Connor, deputy chief executive of Creative Skillset, said there was a lack of teaching capacity in the UK. Some of the training providers are niche and spread out and don’t have the resources they need to develop, while the complexity of the training system is a challenge for many.

She also warned there is a lack of understanding about the range of jobs available across the sector, and there is a need to bring together the design and science elements of the industry.

She urged the need to rebalance the economy, with jobs and skills promoted across the country. Currently the Midlands is the biggest area for fashion and textiles businesses, followed by the north west and London.

Survival of the fittest, she said, should be about being fit for purpose to meet future demands on the sector.

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