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‘War for Talent’ as Apparel Supply Chain Faces Skills Shortage

More than 60 percent of fashion professionals in a recent survey said the apparel industry is struggling to fill roles requiring specialized skills within the supply chain, and there is fear that individuals with real hands-on experience will age out at a faster rate than newly trained skilled labor can be brought on to replace them, risking a gap in valuable knowledge transfer.

Meanwhile, 30 percent of those surveyed said they are dissatisfied with the available training in the industry.

The findings are part of a special report titled, “The State of Skills in the Apparel Industry 2018,” undertaken by fashion innovation firm Alvanon in partnership with eLearning platform Motif, together with 13 apparel organizations. The report surveyed 642 industry professionals across the global supply chain, including executives, human resource personnel and employees, to assess the talent needs within the apparel sector.

Among the findings were indications that not only is there insufficient or inadequate training to maintain the skilled workforce levels necessary, but the level of investment in training to meet those needs falls short, too, and will lead to a “generalization of poor market practices” unless there’s a proper response in short order.

Alvanon CEO Janice Wang suggests the time is now for the industry to invest in training and recruitment for the future generation of fashion suppliers.

“The last generation of people who possess hands-on experience in factories and deep industry knowledge are now between 55 to 75 years old,” Wang said. “There is only a small window of time left to harness and encapsulate some of that experience into learning journeys for both corporates and individuals.”

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Thirty percent of respondents in the survey are actively dissatisfied with the skills training in the sector, which Alvanon owed to fashion industry professionals being primarily concerned with the perceived shortage of technical skills alongside a notable lack of investment toward alleviating those concerns.

“As the apparel industry begins to recognize and implement digitalization as a way of delivering on speed, customization and transparency, it is revealing gaps in the specialized skills set of its workforce,” Wang said.

One of the ways employers can fill those gaps is to invest in long-term career training. As Alvanon explained, citing the 2018 LinkedIn Learning Workplace Learning Report, 94 percent of employees surveyed said they would continue working for a company if it “invested in their career development.” That number is likely to play a larger role as millennials make up a larger portion of the workforce. While just 22 percent of respondents were millennials, Alvanon said the group will make up 75 percent of the workforce as soon as 2025.

Although everyone seems to agree more investment is required in training the workforce, challenges with time and budget constraints have yet to be solved. Employees, specifically, stated a lack of management support and training opportunities as the primary barrier to proper skill acquisition.

What’s more, just 16 percent of the managers surveyed said their companies have comprehensively assessed the skills of their current workforce. Without that information, organizations have been left in the dark regarding their own capabilities. It’s no wonder that fewer than 30 percent of the respondents had seen a budget increase in the last two years while more than two-thirds agreed the investment in necessary.

The leadership that will see these investments through, it seems, is starting to catch on to the demands before them. According to the 2017 edition of Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends, 83 percent of executives cite “reinventing careers and learning” as the most critical business issue—trailing only digitization.