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Education and Training

Compared to the economy more widely, the UK fashion and textiles sector workforce is poorly-qualified in terms of formal certification, demonstrating the low barriers to entry for employees within the sector.

43% of the workforce is either qualified to below N/SVQ level 2 or hold no qualifications at all, compared with 22% of the wider national workforce. N/SVQ level 3 and equivalent qualifications are lacking in the sector compared to the UK average. Only 16% is qualified to degree level (N/SVQ level 4) and above, compared with a national average of 34%.

Source: Strategic Skills Assessment for the Fashion and Textiles Sector in UK 2010

Entry and progression

There are not usually any formal entry requirements for lower-level jobs in the footwear and leather industry. Employers look for candidates who are good with their hands, reliable and willing to learn. Many jobs will provide training in the workplace, sometimes alongside formal vocational qualifications. Because of the highly specialised nature of the skills required in the footwear and leather sector, the emphasis is very much on training in the workplace.

The fashion and textiles sector has a track record of recruiting adults who are looking for career change. Many skills needed in the industry are transferable. Those who have previously worked in a wholesale environment or management position may be able to transfer more easily. Those in professional and management positions can move into similar posts in other areas or sectors.

Progression is usually possible with the appropriate levels of experience or by obtaining relevant qualifications. A progression route in…

  • Footwear and leather could be from: footwear manufacturing operative -> footwear technologist -> designer -> production manager
  • Apparel progression route could be from: Sewing Machinist -> Sample Machinist -> Garment Technologist -> Technical Manager
  • Laundry and dry-cleaning progression route could be from: a Laundry Operative to a Laundry Manager.
  • Textile progression route could be from: Dye House Operative -> Textile Technician -> Technical Manager

Source: Skillfast-UK AACS LMI report 2010


Apprenticeships offer a traditional entry route into key roles throughout the sector, particularly skilled manual roles linked to production.

The overall proportion of apprentices who completed their framework in the fashion and textiles sector during the period August 2007 to April 2008 was 61%, similar to the average for all frameworks of 60%.

Average length of stay for sector apprenticeships in 2007/08 was similar to the average for all frameworks at 50 weeks, while the sector average for advanced apprenticeships in the sector, at 77 weeks, is somewhat lower than the average for all frameworks at 84 weeks.

There is currently no apprenticeship provision for the sector in Wales and Northern Ireland, but development work is underway to address this.

Source: Fashion and textiles apprenticeship framework 2009

Higher education and the design industry

The fashion design industry is an attractive option for many young people who are attracted to the ‘creative’ side of the clothing industry. Around 10,000 people were enrolled on textiles/fashion/clothing design courses in UK Higher Education institutions alone as of 2003/04 academic year, and the number of entrants into design degree courses is growing. However, there is a shortage of skilled graduates with technical skills.

36% of employers cited that they employed a designer within their organisation. With design being an important facet of the sector and a key and growing area that is vital to the well being of the UK fashion and textiles sector. 52% of design businesses say that “finding graduates with the right practical and commercial skills and knowledge” is an important priority. Moreover, among those sector businesses that employ designers, 58% say that recent design graduates lack the necessary technical skills for a job in the sector, whilst 65% lack the required commercial awareness.

Source: Strategic Skills Assessment for the Fashion and Textiles Sector in UK 2010 and Skillfast-UK Skills Needs Assessment 2005