Skills Pays The Bills!

The jobs are there, however the lack of employees with the right skills is having a detrimental affect on the growth of the UK production industry. Fashion Enter & FashionCapital CEO Jenny Holloway discusses the issue…

What are we doing to the Adult Education Budget (AEB)? We have a backlog of JCP learners, many of whom are long-term unemployed, that want to learn stitching skills to fulfill the 20+ jobs we have in our factory and yet there is no budget to train them!

We are Fashion Enter Ltd, a social enterprise that has created a Fashion Technology Academy (FTA) providing high quality Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 skills in garment manufacturing. We have a factory that can produce up to 10,000 garments a week and the majority of our 80 strong machinists are Eastern European.

I can hardly say the Word ‘Brexit’ – as I am sick to death of trying to analyse and plan ahead for our current workforce and the future stability of the company. This is why we opened the FTA, the first in Europe that provides workplace skills that leads to the opportunity of a job in machining, administration, quality control, patterns and apprenticeships at Level 3 and Level 5.

(Images right: from the FTA London)

As a CEO and an ex-senior buyer for the Arcadia group and a selector at Marks & Spencer’s I am absolutely passionate about education and skills. I am from the years of the 11-Plus – which I failed and went to a secondary modern school. Born the wrong side of a small town in the West Midlands I was desperate to get out of the cycle of low-paid jobs in a degenerated area in the Black Country. The only way I achieved that transition into a white-collar job was through education. All I remember is I just tried so hard to do the best I could in my CSE’s and then at Dudley Technical College and now I’m in a position to give opportunities to an army of long-term unemployed women.

When we opened our doors as a training provider I did not realise how much work was involved within the teaching profession. I went to night school for the best part of four-years to do my PTLLS and my DTLLS. Then I sat my assessor’s course and then my IQA. There were many times during that four-year period where I had a wobbly chin, such as when I failed my first micro-teach, I was so tired after working at the factory all day. However, I persevered, I would not give up and lack of finances meant I had to do these courses myself as I knew I was never going to be leaving the company!

Four-years later I’m happy to announce that we have just won the Savile Row Tailoring Companies contracts for the Level 5 apprenticeship, we now work with 33 retailers in the ABC Awards Level 3 Fashion and Textiles apprenticeship (mainly the garment technology pathway) but my, it’s tough!

We have to subcontract our AEB to a college and when the gates opened on that awful website Bravo Solutions for an AEB for the academic year 17/18 I really thought this would open opportunities for our own training budget. The bid process was awful anyway but with the success we were achieving I honestly thought we were in with a good chance to be awarded a slice of the AEB. How wrong I was! I still don’t understand the marking system and I still don’t understand why we were unsuccessful. I now find myself in a position that a college has cut our AEB budget down by almost 50% and yet I have 20 jobs available for immediate start and at least 40 people are now waiting lists at any one time. This is madness!

Do you realise that in today’s dynamic quality fast-track fashion an idea can be transported into garments packed and delivered within just 3 to 4 week period. Fabric is from Leicester and it’s good quality fabric in any print in any size of order. We can turn around 10,000 garments a week and this just shows how nimble the garment manufacturing industry can be now. However, we need skilled machinists to manufacture the garments. How utterly frustrating is it that we have this major opportunity, and not just us but other companies such as the 1’500 companies in Leicestershire that are operating in garment manufacturing too, and yet we have a skills shortage. And that skill shortage just requires AEB budget!

So if anyone has any advice out there to help secure additional funding to allow us to employ local people in the Haringey N4 London area I would really appreciate it. I refuse to give up especially as there is a large rise in demand garment manufacturing within the UK.

By Jenny Holloway CEO of FashionCapital and Fashion Enter