The skills gap in apparel is getting wider all the while the tools needed to close the chasm are falling further and further behind.
Just how many applicants do you think you’d get if you were in need of a patternmaker who could code? It’s not the typical job description, but it is a perfect example of the direction the apparel job market is heading.
The skills needed today are much different than yesterday—and they won’t be good enough for tomorrow either. The speed at which the industry is changing calls for hybrid, multi-hyphenate abilities and workers who have an overarching understanding of the entire supply chain, not just a myopic focus on their particular task.
It’s a tall order, and one that’s not currently being met.
In Alvanon’s “The State of Skills in the Apparel Industry 2018” report, which was based on a survey of 642 industry insiders, the company reveals 73 percent of executives rank employee development and learning as a pressing business issue, second only to going digital.
“We came up with this idea [for the survey] because of the things we were hearing from clients about the lack of fundamental skills and them having a hard time hiring people and finding the right talent and the sudden need for this new blend of skills due to digitization and automation,” said Catherine Cole, director of corporate development at Alvanon and executive director of MOTIF. “It came down to lacking a common language across the supply chain, and it was obvious that there was a lack of fundamentals.”
And the problem was seen across new hires—who don’t come in with the necessary specialized knowledge—through seasoned veterans—whose skills have become outdated over the years.
“Once people are in the job force, there has to be a way to provide continuing education opportunities throughout or you’ll be hiring new people every 9 to 12 months,” Cole said, adding the latter options is really not an option at all. “Sixty-two percent of employers said they have trouble finding people with the right skills. And there were a lot of gripes that fresh grads aren’t graduating with the right commercial skills, and they don’t understand the business and production.”
While the survey confirmed what Alvanon was seeing anecdotally, it also revealed the roadblocks to solving the problem. “The most telling was what was happening with budgets,” Cole said. “A high percentage said they saw no planned increase in budget and that the budgets hadn’t increased in the last two years.”
Beyond investment, both employers and employees identified time as a huge hurdle. When exactly are workers supposed to carve out time to attend classes or go to seminars?
Even for companies like Under Armour and Target that provide training, the issue is often with scaling the offerings. “If you have a big organization and you fly a trainer in that trains 20 people at a time, it’s hard to roll out to everyone and it gets costly over time,” Cole said.
About 30 percent of survey respondents have solved that issue by offering e-learning. The problem is that it’s typically a resource only the biggest companies can afford, and even then employees noted the courses aren’t always relevant or engaging.
To address the skills gap and the trouble individual companies are having bridging it, on Tuesday Alvanon debuted motif.org, a unique apparel knowledge and continual e-learning hub that will help solve the skills’ gap within the global apparel industry.
With MOTIF, Alvanon is providing a way for apparel experts to offer training industry wide. Plus, it allows employers to purchase the course on behalf of their staff, and it gives employees the flexibility to learn at their own pace.
While three of the initial courses will be led by Alvanon executives, the platform doesn’t carry the Alvanon branding because it’s meant to be a standalone resource that will feature a variety of industry experts offering a wide curriculum.
One of the first courses is an adaptation of Alvanon senior advisor Ed Gribbin’s two-day, in-person workshop on the variables that go into apparel costing. The Mechanics of Fit class is designed for those in product development who need to review the fundamentals, and a course on the fit form will instruct attendees on how to do proper fitting on a mannequin.
Pratt’s Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator (Pratt BF+DA) will also offer a course on sustainability in fashion that’s designed to provide those not on the sustainability teams at their companies with the know how to get up to speed on the topic.
Future courses will dive into 3D, sizing, textiles and product development and specific aspects of sustainability.
“The idea is, this should be bigger than Alvanon,” Cole said. “Alvanon will be one of the publishers on it, but there will be leading apparel industry figures from around the world. We need collaboration more than ever and companies to buy into online learning as an important part of continuing education.”