Kate Berry and Sally Blaxall of QHQ Ltd give their opinions and talk about the trends they have noticed through their work in technical recruitment.
Is there a skills gap across the industry as a whole?
“I believe there is an identifiable skills gap generally across many sectors of fashion manufacturing. There is a big gap in the industry for technologists with compliance and REACH skills and this is a growing area for all Retail Technologists. The EU REACH legislation is increasingly important http://www.hse.gov.uk/reach/) and clients recognize the need to employ specialists in this area, but also expect garments technologists to have a good working knowledge of REACH, which is sometimes not the case.
Is it the same in the Footwear sector?
“Yes, I believe there is an apparent skills gap in Footwear at all levels. The industry is missing technologists with manufacturing experience and knowledge of footwear factories. Historically, technologists would have come from a ‘hands on’ manufacturing background, e.g. Clickers in the industry, and worked their way up - but now there is a gap in the industry for those skills as so much fashion manufacturing has been moved offshore and apprenticeship schemes are almost non existent.
I also feel the industry is missing junior technologists in footwear with sufficient practical knowledge. Younger technologists often only have knowledge of bespoke footwear or what they learnt in college - making shoes for their finals. They have no mass production knowledge and they need this knowledge to manage overseas suppliers once in working roles.
Is there generally a skills gap for Junior Technologists?
“I think there is, and in all sectors: Menswear, Womenswear and Kidswear. We are especially noticing this gap with the 2nd jobbers who have about 1-2 years’ experience and salaries in the £20-23k bracket. It’s difficult for them to secure new roles because the Retailers expect them to have quite broad skills - even though they have minimal career experience.
“Junior Garment Technologists with test report knowledge and some compliance knowledge are very much in demand. This can be difficult to achieve for some candidates, particularly graduates and 1st jobbers as it is a topic usually only covered theoretically in college. Candidates that come to us from smaller brands where they have had exposure to these areas are sometimes more successful in securing new positions because of the practical skills they can offer.
Junior Designers often apply for Junior Garment Technologist roles – sometimes with the misconception that they have the same skills, but that’s not really the case, they are two separate skill sets.
We have also noticed that garment fitting skills are often missing from junior candidate’s experience. For this reason, Supplier experience is helpful as you get more exposure to the ‘hands on’ or practical aspects of a Garment Technologists’ role.
Testing laboratories like SGS, www.sgs.co.uk or www.bureauveritas.co.uk run workshops or testing courses where technologists can learn or improve their knowledge of product testing and industry standards.
How about for more experienced roles - is there a skills gap?
“There is a shortage of good experienced garment technologists who are ready to manage their own department within Retail. We question if this is because this is the age and level when people start to leave the industry.
Quite a lot of people start thinking about freelancing or working part-time at this point in their careers due to family circumstances. Others get sidetracked into product development or managing their own business alongside freelance work to supplement their income.
Why do more senior people leave the fashion manufacturing industry?
“We feel that inflexibility in the work place does not help people stay in the industry. At this stage, candidates often want to travel to broaden their experience – if a role doesn’t offer this, they may feel they have to move elsewhere. Or they want more flexible roles due to family circumstances and the industry as a whole does not really offer this, so they go freelance instead.
Retailers really want broad technical experience and strategic skills at this level, which include Supplier management skills and a broad knowledge of the competitor market
“There is also a shortage of Supplier Garment Technologist candidates across the industry. The majority of Garment Technologists want to work in Retail, as it offers bigger salaries, bonuses and packages – these are not offered by suppliers.
Suppliers often reject candidates because of a lack of retail knowledge or because they are not able to represent the brand well enough to customers, or because they are pattern technologists rather than garment technologists.
It’s important to find the right role for a person so that they feel able to stay in the job, which is better for the industry as a whole. A more flexible approach to employment across the industry would also be beneficial in the long term.
You can also read this article on FashionUnited