A new apprenticeship scheme aims to create better opportunities for UK shoe manufacturing. Robert Perkins, CEO at Hotter, explains why the industry needs to build up a stronger and younger skills base in the UK to benefit from fast moving markets.
The British footwear industry has launched a new nationally accredited apprenticeship standard for this autumn.
It has been designed by employers to be flexible and offers high-quality entry-level training and experience to those interested in joining a highly skilled industry.
The new scheme aims to better grasp the economic opportunities which future UK shoe manufacturing industries offer to the country.
Robert Perkins, British Footwear Association board member and CEO at Hotter, said to The Manufacturer: “The new footwear manufacturing apprenticeship standard has taken over two years of cross industry cooperation to create a common skills standard.
“This allows shared training and assessment resources to help manage the cost of rebuilding our skills base across a diverse range of shoe and factory types, that are geographically located apart from each other.”
The UK needed a more flexible apprenticeship scheme for the footwear industries to make the most out of future opportunities. Perkins explained: “There are real opportunities to grow the capacity of the UK shoemaking industry, but this will require investment in equipment, systems and people.”
Perkins underlined three reasons, why UK shoe manufacturing could see a promising future.
- The UK is becoming more competitive, relative to the Far East, because inflation is high in China, Vietnam, and much lower in the UK.
- Automation and robotics are helping to reduce costs in the UK by taking some of the work content out of the manufacturing processes.
- There is now a big opportunity to close cost gaps, and it is a huge benefit to have manufacturing facilities close to the market.
How to attract young people to work in shoe making
Many modern industry sectors share the same fate. They find it easy to attract sources of finance to invest in a company’s technology systems, but when it comes to strengthening people capabilities, things are not clear-cut.
The British footwear industry launched the new apprenticeship scheme to engage more young people in a career in footwear manufacturing.
In the past, it has been difficult to attract apprentices into the shoe industry; but times are changing, especially due to the implementation of new technologies and robotics on the shop floor.
Perkins said: “At Hotter, we have got a very well-balanced age profile in our manufacturing business.
“We have as many employees who are 25 to 35 years old as we have employees who are older than 55. It is a very modern business and we have an even profile of manufacturing employees.
Perkins said, Hotter manages its teams in a very progressive way.
“It is not just about having a contemporary brand, it is how we manage and lead our staff, the environment we all work in and the opportunities we offer for development, training and promotion.”
How to benefit from moving markets
Another reason why it is crucial to build up the UK footwear industry’s skills base lies in the nature of modern shoe manufacturing itself.
“Nowadays, footwear markets are typically much faster moving than a couple of years ago.”
The footwear industry faces all the idiosyncrasies of the fashion world in terms of styling, colour and materials, as well the unpredictability of the UK weather (“You don’t sell sandals in the rain”), unpredictable economic cycles and the impact of big national events.
“It is quite difficult to predict the demand for each shoe (style, colour, fit, size) across many retail store locations, and therefore, having a manufacturing base within the UK market, reduces lead times, and creates more agility.
Another reason why it is beneficial for the UK to have a high-skilled shoe manufacturing base in the UK market is the increasing trend towards fast fashion.
Fast fashion & proximity to the market
“Proximity to the market is even more important in a fast fashion environment.
“Clothing manufacturing is starting to come back to the UK, or at least it is coming closer to Europe because fast fashion needs a very short tight supply chain.”
Even though most UK shoe manufacturers don’t produce for fast fashion markets yet, there are big opportunities for them in trend driven fashion.
Even in the more conservative markets, Perkins said, the fashion influence is greater than it used to be, trends arrive and disappear faster than before.
“A manufacturer has to react quickly to market trends otherwise he risks being left with surplus stock. All areas of the fashion business need to be very mindful of supply chain agility and long lead times because the margins we all make are very easily lost.
“Equally, we won’t make any profit unless we guarantee the availability of products which consumers prefer.”
Perkins said, that more and more consumers want to know, who has made their products and where the materials are sourced. Transparency is very important to consumers these days.”
The biggest challenges for UK shoe manufacturing in the UK
The biggest challenge for the UK shoe business is the rising costs of being on the high street since consumers are gravitating towards online shopping. Many shoe businesses need to adapt and transition from having retail rich sales and concentrate more on online strategies.
The other challenge, Perkins said, is Brexit, especially because UK shoe manufacturers buy and sell materials and shoes across Europe.
Unpredictable costs are another challenge to the industry. Since the EU referendum the pound has devalued, and therefore, the costs of raw materials have increased.
“British shoe manufacturers are trying to be competitive in a market that is not very tolerant of any price inflation, especially as consumers wages have not risen within the last years.”