British luxury goods industry at risk from skills deficit

Posted on 4 Nov 2011 by The Manufacturer

A shortage of people with skills to make cashmere and tutus reveals the risk faced by the British luxury goods industry to remain competitive while keeping its workforce British, members of luxury brands group Walpole have warned.

As more young people continue to apply for university places, following the model espoused by Tony Blair’s New Labour that 50% of school leavers should enter higher education, some famous luxury goods manufacturers cannot find the people they need to run their businesses.

Members of Walpole, the luxury brands group whose members include Aspreys, Burberry, gunmakers Hollland & Holland and single malt whisky distillers like Chivas, have warned that the favoured post-school route of attending university is shrinking its talent pool.

This has become a business risk and has caused some blue chip firms to seek staff from overseas, according to an article in the London Evening Standard.

Niche industries, such as tutu-making for theatre productions and cashmere manufacture, are facing recruitment and sustainability problems because people leaving higher education have neither the passion nor the necessary skills to devote to a manufacturing-orientated career. Mulberry’s Emma Hill told the newspaper that those who produce cashmere garments for her company are “very well-paid grannies.”

Some organisations who do not look upon an embedded culture of university attendance through rose-tinted spectacles are frantically lending their support to government-led efforts to create apprenticeships.

One proposal from the Federation of Small Businesses is to extend Work Trials. Rather than claimants who receive jobseekers’ allowance waiting six months to begin trials, they begin the trial as soon as they sign on.

The coalition government has been acknowledged for creating over 100,000 apprenticeships. While many employers can guarantee a job to an apprentice, it remains to be seen whether or not the majority of these training placements turn into meaningful employment and not serve merely as a source of cheap labour.

Apprenticeships are rising in popularity, given the tough job market and saturated university applications, but the fairly new momentum seems to have come toolate to assist some businesses which rely on artisan craftsmanship, such as jewellery and luxury handbag making.

Read London Evening Standard columnist Rosamund Urwin’s article here

George Archer