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  • Newham College London Level 2 Tailoring Apprentice, 2015. Photo © www.newham.ac.uk 2015

Studying Craft 16 Findings: Apprenticeships

In the face of a 50% decline in craft courses in higher education over the last eight years, together with ever increasing fees, it’s vital that other routes are available to aspiring makers to pursue careers in craft.

Apprenticeships are now being promoted by the Government, a form of training that combines work and study and that some businesses have long offered tailored to particular craft disciplines. Our case study shows how Newham College is offering pre-apprenticeship courses to support young people wishing to pursue the apprenticeship route into craft.

The press has covered extensively the introduction of a levy that will be imposed on employers, yet this only applies to companies with annual pay bills in excess of £3 million. Fewer than 2% of UK employers will pay it and most craft businesses will be exempt.

Our research findings on apprenticeships show that:

  • Participation in craft apprenticeships (those available through the National Apprenticeships Service) has risen by over 300% since 2007/08. Most of this growth occurred in 2013/14 as the Government prioritised apprenticeships over other work-based learning. As a consequence, routes into craft are genuinely diversifying, albeit in small numbers.
  • More people are pursuing intermediate apprenticeships than advanced apprenticeships (1,530 compared to 370 in 2014/15) but both have shown growth in recent years.
  • Participation in craft-related apprenticeships is concentrated in a relatively narrow range of courses - furniture and textiles - with small numbers studying woodcrafts and jewellery. This may reflect the ability of larger furniture and textiles businesses to employ apprentices, as well as the existence of private or bespoke apprenticeships offered, for example, in jewellery.
  • The majority of participants in crafts apprenticeships are men (90% overall), in contrast to the higher education, where women outnumber men by about three to one. Men outnumber women at both apprenticeship levels and in all disciplines. However, female participation is rising and the proportion of women is now higher than it was in 2007/08 (although it peaked in 2011/12). Across all apprenticeship subjects (craft and non-craft), the gender balance is more even (51% of learners are women), although some subjects have greater gender differences than those apparent in craft.
  • Around 4% of participants in craft apprenticeships are from Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups, by comparison with 10% of all apprenticeship learners (craft and non-craft). It’s interesting that this also contrasts with BAME numbers in craft further and higher education courses (20%), raising questions about the breadth of appeal of the existing offer and how effectively publicity is reaching all communities.
  • Participation in craft-related apprenticeships showed the highest growth in the North West and Yorkshire & the Humber regions. The East of England, East Midlands and the West Midlands also showed high growth. However, in some areas, such as London and the North East, participation remains low.
  • It’s welcome news that more young people are showing interest in apprenticeships, but how do we drive up numbers? Apprenticeships offer both an attractive and flexible route into craft careers, a route for which the micro-businesses typical of the craft sector may need more support before they can contribute effectively.

Julia Bennett, Head of Research and Policy

Bespoke Tailoring courses at Newham College, London - Chris Hall

Newham College London has a long history of support for the fashion industry, and in addition to college courses, also owns the Fashion and Textile Museum, a highly successful exhibition and training centre for the sector. With a strong commitment to vocational training and employability, in 2004 the College was introduced to group of Savile Row companies concerned about the growing skills shortages in bespoke tailoring, as very few young people were being trained in this exacting craft profession. 

Newham College London, Tailoring Apprentice, 2016. Photo © www.newham.ac.uk 2016

In partnership with the Savile Row Bespoke Association, Newham College designed a programme of unique new courses that has since enabled hundreds of young people to develop the specialist skills and knowledge needed for employment in the sector. Open to 16-18 and 19+ students, the full College programme provides introductory, intermediate, and advanced level courses that start each September. Delivered in industry-standard workshops, courses are highly practical and focus on the development of students' sewing, garment construction, pattern cutting and tailoring craft skills, plus the development of the professionalism and industry knowledge they need for future employment. Courses are suitable for both young people with no previous experience of garment making and also for those who wish to develop their existing skills further - encouragement and good support helps ensure that each student is able to develop their full potential. Detailed information about each course can be found here.

Newham College's bespoke tailoring programme has established a new and highly effective route to skilled garment production employment, and attracts students from throughout the UK and EU. With more than 50 ex-students now working in Savile Row itself (example profiles in www.bespokeapprentice.com) and many more in tailoring, costume and garment production companies elsewhere, this innovative and successful programme has helped transform training routes in the sector. 

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