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2nd November 2011, Hawick

Scottish knitwear manufacturers to recruit apprentices

Scottish knitwear manufacturers to recruit apprentices

A group of traditional rivals in the Scottish knitwear industry have formed an unlikely alliance and will employ apprentices to save their industry from extinction due to a disappearing workforce. 

According to a recent survey, the 12 companies from the Scottish Borders stand to lose the most experienced 10% of their 2000 plus workforce to retirement over the next five years, leaving them with a crippling skills gap. However until now there were no established programmes to recruit and train new talent.

"But there is now a solution, thanks to the forward thinking of this group of employers who had not sat together at the same table in more than two generations. The result is a Skillset Modern Apprenticeship programme that has been driven by the industry to respond to the very specific challenges that it faces," a statement from government skills agency Skillset said.

Led by Robin Deas from the House of Cheviot and Mike Wilson from the Scottish Borders Exporters Association, the knitwear manufacturers have banded together and, with the help of Skillset and a collection of educational, trade and governmental bodies, developed an innovative solution to their collective challenge.

The companies that comprise the Scottish Borders Knitwear Group Training Association are Hawick Knitwear, Hawick Cashmere, Peter Scott, Johnston's of Elgin, Barrie, William Lockie & Co, House of Cheviot, Scott & Charters, Eribe, Caerlee Mills, Kearse & Boys and Lochcarron.

Perception problem

According to Skillset, while the knitwear industry in the Borders, which is largely based in Hawick, Galashiels and Innerleithen, has always been recognised as high-end, the manufacturers have long faced a perception problem among the local population.

"If Johnny wasn't doing so well in school, he'd be told, ‘You'll end up in the mills'," said Robin Deas of House of Cheviot.  

"But this is now a very specialised and technical industry, with highly skilled careers, and there are excellent opportunities for young people who want them," Mr Deas added.

Since recognising the problem in April this year, Deas and Wilson have worked with colleagues in the industry to form the Scottish Borders Knitwear Group Training Association, which will run the apprenticeships in the future.

Skillset joined the project in its early stages, designing the apprenticeship and bringing together the many organisations who will support the project technically and financially, and help sustain it in the future.

By the industry for the industry

Director of Skillset Scotland, Alasdair Smith, said: "The really fantastic thing about this project is that it has been driven by the industry, for the industry."   "What Skillset and all the other supporting bodies have been able to do is train the industry to train itself, defusing a demographic time bomb in the process," explained Mr Smith.

Job Centre Plus will provide potential recruits through the Get Ready for Work and Work Experience initiatives, Scottish Enterprise will provide organisational support and Skills Development Scotland will provide financial support of up to £4,500 per apprentice.

The Scottish Textiles Academic Group (STAG) and Cardonald College will provide academic support for the trainers, assessors and apprentices, and there is broad support from the Scottish Textiles Industry Association (STIA) and the Scottish Government.

The STIA is hoping this programme will form the template for other branches of the fashion and textiles industry throughout Scotland, and indeed for any industry facing similar challenges.

Scotland's Skills Minister, Alasdair Allan, said: "Through Opportunities for All, we are committed to ensuring that every 16-19-year-old has a place in school, college or training. I am very pleased to see these traditional rivals putting their differences aside and creating new opportunities for young people in the Borders that will also give their industry fresh impetus."

During the last week of October STAG will begin training the 20 trainers and 10 assessors necessary for the Association to take on its first 50 apprentices, who are currently being recruited.

Skillset is the Creative Industries' Sector Skills Council (SSC). SSCs are licensed by the UK Government and by Ministers in the devolved administrations to tackle the skills and productivity challenges faced by sector.    

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