Engagement with local schools, an improved image for the sector and mending the “broken link between retailers and manufacturers” are all essential to help upskill the UK manufacturing industry, a former Mulberry director said on Wednesday.
Speaking at the Creative Skillset UK Fashion and Textiles Skills Summit in Nottingham, the former group supply director for Mulberry, Ian Scott, who launched an apprenticeship scheme at the handbag brand in 2006, called for more craft and manufacturing to be including in the national school curriculum to boost awareness of the industry.
He also said closer links were needed between schools and local manufacturing businesses.
“Near every single school is a manufacturing unit, so we should say every school has to strike up a partnership with manufacturing companies and they have to visit them,” he said. “That would have a massive impact.”
When launching the Mulberry scheme, which has taken on 70 apprentices since it started, he identified the five local schools around the Somerset factory and brought them into the business to see what it was all about. “It’s about local engagement. After the first cohort we then celebrated the success and got as much publicity as possible.”
Following the apprenticeship scheme, which has taken on 14 people this year, only 30% of the Mulberry workforce is now over 50, compared to 50% in 2005.
Lorna Fitzsimons, director at The Alliance Project, which encourages the repatriation of textile manufacturing, said: “The image of the work is the biggest detractor to considering a career in the industry.”
Alliance Project recently launched a pilot pop-up factory at a careers fair in Rochdale to explain to teenagers what it was like working in fashion manufacturing. She said half of those who engaged with the pop-up said they would now consider a career in the industry.
“It’s about how we explain ourselves. We are not very welcoming [as an industry]. We need to find a way of telling the story of our industry, as it has a great future.”
But it’s not just the younger generation that needs more information. Martin Jenkins, business development manager at Huddersfield training organisation Textiles Centre of Excellence, explained parents also need educating about how the industry has changed so they do not put youngsters off applying for jobs.
Mick Cheema, general manager of Leicester-based manufacturer Basic Premier, highlighted the extent of the existing skills gap and urged training providers to deliver more skilled factory workers so he can capitalise on increased demand for made in Britain products.
He said he currently produces 30,000 to 40,000 units a week and there is potential demand for 100,000 a week, “but I can’t do it as I don’t have the workers”.
“We have to get together and tackle this somehow as the textile business in the UK is huge. I could do with another 50 to 60 workers.”
Kate Hills, founder of Make it British (pictured), warned: “There’s still that broken link between retailers and manufacturers in the UK. A lot of that is down to the fact retailers are being pushed on price and not thinking about the long-term investment they would be making if buying from the UK. They are only thinking about their intake margin.”
She added some UK manufacturers have been struggling as minimum wages have increased. “Manufacturers say putting up the minimum wage hasn’t helped at all. They are up against the supermarkets, which pay people £10 an hour to stack shelves and they are being squeezed by their clients on price.”
Hills said another problem was getting manufacturers to understand the long-term value of the investment when taking on apprentices, while many also have a fear of investing in new staff as they don’t know when order volumes could change.