Fashion apprentices shun uni and head straight to work

Debt-averse students are shying away from tuition fees of £9,000 a year, and opting instead to try apprenticeships as a way to get the skills they need to find work.

The fashion industry, where practical experience is often preferred to a degree qualification, is one sector that looks set to benefit from what Liam Byrne, shadow universities minister, calls an earn-while-you-learn revolution.

"With a greater demand for UK-made products, there has never been a better time to start a career in the fashion and textiles industry," says Jayne West, fashion and textiles partnership manager at Creative Skillset. She reckons apprenticeships are a good way to prepare young people to work in fashion.

Some would-be apprentices might put off by a minimum wage of just £2.68 per hour – but the newly launched National Society for Apprentices could mean a fairer deal is on the way. The National Union of Students (NUS), which launched the society, aims to give apprentices a voice and champion their rights.

Raechel Mattey, NUS vice-president, says: "It's high time we started to champion our apprentices by tackling exploitative practices within the industry and rooting out abuse where it exists."

Fashion Enter, based in North London, manufactures clothes for M&S, New Look and Topshop. Chief executive Jenny Holloway, says: "I would defy anyone to say that apprenticeships don't work. We provide very real qualifications and practical skills – you can't learn this stuff out of a book."

Zoe Barrow, 18, is an apprentice PR assistant for Fashion Capital. She was introduced to the idea of apprenticeships at her college and found her role after a bit of research.

"Most fashion courses seemed to be based in either journalism or design, but I wanted to do something that gave me the bigger picture," she says. "I have learned about the whole business and worked on production, marketing, social media and events. One day I would like to run my own design label and gaining a broad range of skills has given me the confidence to do so."

Tom Pendry, 31, is a cutter and apprentice master tailor for Henry Poole & Co on Saville Row. Previously a guitar teacher and musician, he learned about apprenticeships from Newham College, after signing up for a part-time course there "on a whim".

"I was older than I imagined most other apprentices would be, but it actually worked to my advantage," he says. "For a role like mine that is public-facing, the idea of having an older person seemed to appeal to employers. They also knew that I was serious about tailoring as a career – I wasn't just going to try it out and later change my mind."

Emma Joseph, 23, is an assistant footwear technologist for New Look. She says: "I did six months of a clothing design course at university, but was finding it to be very theory and research based.

"An opportunity came up to take an apprenticeship with a company I had worked with on a project in college, which seemed to better suit me as I prefer a more hands-on approach to learning. It's great experience and I hope to stay at the company and move into a junior footwear technologist role in future."

(Source: TheGuardian)


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