George at Asda has thrown its weight behind the training, up- skilling and education of fashion students with the launch of an open house Education Day and fully funded university programme.
George managing director Andrew Moore said: “We are really committed to education and want to drive more skills and training. There are so many young people looking for opportunities and, as well as trying to help as many as possible with jobs, we also want to help them learn about all the roles available in a fashion company.”
The first Education Day will be held at George House in Lutterworth, Leicestershire, on March 31, the same day Drapers will hold its Next Generation Academy to help nurture young people at the start of their fashion careers. About 70 tutors and careers advisers from colleges and universities across the country will be invited to learn about the career options for 16 to 24-year-olds.
“We’ll have surgery sessions and presentations, and the chance to talk to the people in these roles,” said Moore. “Most people know what a fashion designer is but not necessarily what a merchandiser is and that’s why we need more understanding.”
George will also launch a learn-while-you-earn university programme in August, which it said is the first of its kind for a retailer. It will allow four college leavers the chance to study for a foundation degree in retail at Manchester Metropolitan University while taking up a salaried position at George.
Asda people director Caroline Massingham said the George programme would provide a “much-needed platform” as “the tough economy has led to rising youth unemployment, fewer university places and increased costs of funding for university courses”.
George will sponsor Graduate Fashion Week for the first time this year, which runs from June 5-8, showcasing design talent from fashion graduates. Moore said: “We’re looking at ways of broadening Graduate Fashion Week beyond design into other areas such as merchandising, buying and more technical skills to showcase other careers.”
Moore also said he is supportive of the re-emergence of UK manufacturing but said it would “never take over from large-scale operations from countries such as China”.
He said George manufactured some thermal fabric in the UK after a factory owner in Nottingham reinstated some fabric manufacturing equipment. “Before everything went abroad lots of garments were made on these machines and it’s great to see them return. By autumn we hope to be making our thermal underwear here, not just the fabric.”
Rival Tesco has a small amount of manufacturing in the UK, such as sweaters and printed T-shirts. A spokeswoman for the supermarket chain said it was supportive of the industry, but also conceded costs would be prohibitive to move too much back to the UK.
The support of major retailers for UK manufacturing is key to driving growth in the sector and echoes the ambitions of Drapers’ ongoing Save Our Skills (SOS) campaign, which launched last month after manufacturers said they were struggling to cope with a sudden surge in demand for their products and capacity.
An ageing population and skills shortages are key issues for UK manufacturers.