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The majority of the fashion and textiles workforce are employed within process, plant and machine operatives and elementary occupations. Compared to the wider economy, employment is also heavily concentrated in managerial positions and skilled manual trades. The sector is under-represented in professional, associate professional and administrative occupations when compared to employment the wider economy.

Employment opportunities are moving away from low-skilled occupations towards higher-level posts, including management, research and development and design. Whilst operative level jobs are declining as an occupational grouping, they still account for over a quarter of all employment and represent the continuing importance that these jobs to the sector.

Administrative, skilled trades and elementary occupations are all also expected to see large declines in workforce proportions to 2017. Although these occupational grouping within sector are forecast a gross decline in demand, positive replacement demand will see these occupations contributing to an increase in employment. For instance, people will needed to replace those leaving the sector due to retirement or other factors.

Machine and transport operatives will have the largest level of replacement demand, but significant changes will occur in many other occupations. Over the next 10 years, over a third of the current workforce on average will need to be replaced.

Managerial and technical positions will proportionally make up a larger part of the workforce in the future, as companies spend more time managing supply chains and customer relations. An increased number of smaller niche and technical operators will be expected to enter the market as well.

There are still shortages of skilled people to fill technical roles at operative and craft level, for example sewing machinists and tailors. Management and leadership skills are also a priority at this time.

Sources: Skillfast-UK AACS LMI report 2010, Strategic Skills Assessment for the Fashion and Textiles Sector in UK 2010 and Working Futures 2007-2017


Occupational hard-to-fill vacancies and skill shortage vacancies

Key statistics:

  • 13% of employers in the sector report vacancies, compared to 18% in all sectors
  • 5% report hard-to-fill vacancies, compared to 7% in all sectors
  • in total there are around 1,364 hard-to-fill vacancies reported, which is 0.7% of employment in the sector
  • 4% report skill shortage vacancies, compared to 5% in all sectors
  • the highest proportion of skills shortage vacancies are for skilled trades (30%)
  • 14% of establishments report skills gaps, compared to 15% in all sectors
  • the proportion of staff described as lacking proficiency is 7%

Skills gaps are highest for elementary and operatives. Gaps are reported to be for technical and practical skills, team working and problem-solving.

The impact of hard-to-fill vacancies is reported to be:

  • increased workload for other staff
  • loss of business or orders to competitors
  • delays developing new products
  • increased operating costs

Source: National Employer Skills Survey 2008

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Skills shortages and skills gaps by occupation

The occupational profile of skills shortages in England is dominated by skilled trades and operative level jobs. The density of skills shortages is also highest by far in skilled trade’s roles. Both of these categories contain a strong weighting of roles that require sector-specific technical skills.

Skilled trades within the sector that require specific skills include occupations such as carpet fitters, weavers and knitters, leather and related trades, tailors and dress makers, whilst operatives include sewing machinists, textile process operatives, chemical and related process operatives, and clothing cutters.

Employers report the largest proportion of skills gaps are within operative and elementary occupations, which together account for more than half of the total gaps reported. In Wales, however, skills gaps are predominant in associate professional occupations.

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

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Salary levels

The level of median gross weekly earnings for workers in the two manufacturing industries covered by the sector is around 80% of that for the whole economy. In the apparel, footwear and textiles sub-sectors, low wages are a result of employers being unable to adjust wages because of the competitive position of some industries and the poor level of profitability of individual firms.


Source: Skillfast-UK Generation F Career Profiles 2009

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Future skills

In the face of low cost competition from overseas, UK businesses are increasingly reliant upon the following activities:

  • New product development
  • Brand creation and development
  • The international marketing of branded products
  • The application of new technologies in all areas of the business, including design, production and communications
  • Creative design
  • Diversification e.g. entry of traditional textile companies into technical markets
  • Quick response capability and service performance
  • Low-cost, small scale manufacturing of high added value and difficult to make products
  • International sourcing of both materials and finished products

The changing face of the sector has major implications for the nature and intensity of skills needs, for instance:

  • The average level of skill required is higher than it was even a few years ago, as routine operator roles have been transferred offshore, with the focus of UK businesses shifting towards higher level craft and technical roles associated with design, product development and quality control of the supply chain.
  • The typical sector worker needs a broader range of skills as employers seek to extend multi-skilling in order to increase flexibility, improve efficiency and reduce costs.
  • The mix of skills and knowledge required from a typical worker are evolving rapidly as the growing reliance on overseas sourcing rather than domestic production results in changes to supply chain relationships with implications for job content.
  • A greater emphasis is being placed on strong craft skills and knowledge of product and materials technology by UK manufacturers seeking to realize complex designs and to underpin their distinctive brands with excellent product quality.

Source: Fashion and textiles apprenticeship framework 2009

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Occupational roles and sources of information

Two websites run by Skillset Sector Skills Council Just the job and Future Textiles include a wide selection of careers information on jobs in the fashion and textiles sector.

The National Careers Service website has detailed occupational profiles for some occupations in the arts, crafts and design, including: clothing alteration hand; dressmaker; fashion designer; footwear designer; milliner; leather craft worker; patter grader; and textile production manager. These profiles include information on entry points, training, working environment, employment opportunities and expected annual salary.

The Gradaute Prospects website (a graduate careers website) includes information on broad sectors including: Fashion and design and Creative arts. Each includes information on: job roles entry and progression; typical employers; opportunities abroad; future trends; case studies; plus a list of contacts and resources.

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