Kate O’Connor is executive director of sector skills and training organisation Creative Skillset.
UK fashion has never been more high-profile and well-respected around the world, but the lack of co-ordination on a coherent skills strategy could seriously impede its future success.
More than 319,000 people are employed in more than 58,000 UK fashion and textiles companies. Collectively, our industry brings £11.8bn to the UK economy - and this is set to grow. The British Fashion Council’s Value of Fashion report has put the value of the wider footprint, including retail, at £26bn.
Our strengths lie in the creativity of our design, the variety of the high street and our world-class education system. This success and creativity is built on the back of small companies, with 98% of fashion and textiles businesses employing fewer than 50 people. But almost a third (30%) of those people will be retired in 10 years’ time - leading to a potentially serious skills drain.
There is a lot of potential for growth and reshoring of production back to the UK. So how can we avert the crisis in skills in the industry and capitalise on the critical acclaim of our design and manufacturing?
Creative Skillset’s UK fashion and textiles skills council, composed of companies, trade bodies and training organisations, is leading the development of an industrial action and investment plan for 2016 and beyond. Our contribution to delivering this plan is investment in building capacity for our industries, from developing entry-level training models and making links between initiatives in this large and complex sector, through to strategic and government-level policy and advocacy. Other key organisations have made contributions in this area, including the BFC, UK Fashion & Textile Association, The Alliance Project and the Scottish Textile & Leather Association.
Now we need to harness this thinking into a coherent strategy. The potential for growth is great, but we still face the fight of our lives to stop the skills drain.
l Creative Skillset hosts a fashion and textiles skills summit at Nottingham Conference Centre on November 19. The Fashion & Textiles Handbook for students and educators is available at Creativeskillset.org from the same date