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Furniture, furnishing and interiors

The UK furniture, furnishing and interiors sub-sector creates products for the domestic, office and contract markets. It includes the manufacture of: cabinets; chairs and seats; office furniture; contract furniture (for shops, hospitals, hotels, schools); kitchen furniture; mattresses; and other furniture. It also includes the manufacture of soft furnishings. Demand for new quality goods is expected to remain high and restoration and remedial work is also on the increase in the UK.

The sub-sector has experienced a downturn since 2008, with 37% of companies reporting a decrease in business and 30% having reduced their workforce. However for many companies business has either stayed the same or increased, and most are still maintaining their workforce level. The outlook for the future is fairly positive, with fewer expecting their business and workforce to decrease and more expecting it to remain the same. Overall, the sub-sector has declined in size over the last decade, but this appears to be levelling off.

Key statistics:

  • There are an estimated 149,000 people employed in the sub-sector, across 12,200 workplaces.
  • Workers in the sub-sector tend to be full-time and directly employed, rather than on a contract basis.
  • Work is often shift-based, especially in lower levels jobs.
  • 88% of the workforce is employed full-time..
  • 71% of the workforce is male.
  • 97% of the workforce is white.
  • 13% of workforce is 16-24 years, 19% 25-34 years, 22% 35-44 years, 28% 45-54 years, 18% 55-64 years and 2% 65 years and over.
  • 11% of the workforce considers themselves to have a disability.
  • 15% of the workforce has a Level 1 or entry level qualification, 23% a Level 2, 31% a Level 3, 5% a Level 4 and 9% a Level 5 qualification.
  • Annual turnover for the sub-sector is currently around £10.8 billion.
  • There are 18,870 sole traders in the sub-sector.

Jobs in the sub-sector range from: assembler, frame maker, wood machinist, restorer, polisher, soft upholster, cabinet maker, kitchen fitter, furniture installer, blinds and shutter installer, upholsterer – cutter, upholsterer – sewer, joiner

Generally, the skills needs for the future will be in higher level management and technical operations. This particularly important in the furniture, furnishing and interiors sub-sector as more elementary tasks become automated. There will be a continuing need for health and safety skills and environmental skills in the sub-sector. It will become more important for people to be multi-skilled and able to work across several areas of the business.

Skill shortages in the sub-sector include:

  • Craft and Technical skills, such as cabinet making, polishing, upholstery and wood carving/machining
  • Employability skills, such as team-working, having a good attitude, and using initiative
  • Management and Leadership skills

Skill gaps within the existing workforce are reported by16% of employers. The gaps are mainly in technical or practical skills and are attributed to a lack of experience.

The largest occupational groups in the sub-sector are:

  • Skilled Trades Occupations
  • Machine Operatives
  • Managers and Senior Officials

The majority of companies in the sector (87%) are located in England, with 7% of the total in Scotland, 2% in Wales and 4% in Northern Ireland. 80% of employers in the sub-sector employ between 2-9 people, 15% employ 11-49 people and less than 1% of all companies employ more than 200 people.

The proportion of furniture companies reporting vacancies is significantly lower than in previous research (currently 4%) although a third of companies with vacancies are still reporting difficulty filling them. Most of these hard-to-fill vacancies were said to be because of a lack of skilled applicants. Vacancies are most likely to be experienced amongst skilled trade occupations and process, plant and machine operatives (28% of companies with vacancies), and in general large companies have more difficulty with recruitment than smaller companies.

Source: Proskills AACS LMI report 2010 and The 2009 Employer Survey – Furniture