Tony Smart - Senior Warden, Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers
We have heard many times in recent months that this country needs to rebalance its economy. This implies a better balance between our service/financial industries and our manufacturing sector. If our government is, at last, serious about this - and they should be - then the UK furniture industry needs to be well placed to play its part.
Investment in new technology and smarter and quicker ways to get from initial design to manufacture will be required in order to compete in local and world markets. A more flexible approach to consumers’ needs will also be required, as demonstrated by the success of the Oxford produced Mini by BMW, where a multitude of options are open to the buyer with no penalty on delivery times. A furniture maker recently quoted: “what the car industry does today the furniture industry follows 10 years later.” Whilst some of our industry is making the necessary investment needed to take full advantage of the new technology, others have not and we do not have 10 years available to catch up.
Now is the time to be brave and to make the investments that will give this country an industry which is able to compete with the best in the world, to win back the majority share of the UK market, and to radically improve the export performance of the industry. However, with the introduction of the new technology comes the need for a smaller but highly skilled work force, from the design studio through to the delivery to the customer. Buying and installing a new CNC machine requires a high capital investment and can take many months, but getting the skills required to fully exploit the advantages it gives can take longer.
Now is the time to be brave and make the investments to able to compete with the best in the world
The Industry has already recognised the need for a new generation of skilled workers by supporting the Government’s Trailblazer initative which has resulted in new Apprenticeship Standards at Level 2 covering ten sectors of the industry. These will be available, together with their related assessment criteria from early in 2017. Initial work has already started on a selection of Level 3 Apprenticeships and again industry involvement in specifying these Standards and getting the necessary support for them will be required
The Furniture Makers’ Company is working with Schools, Colleges, Training Providers and Universities to raise awareness of the industry and to provide a platform to encourage young people to train for, and to join our industry. It is up to the whole industry to come together and to take full advantage of the opportunities being offered. We have some excellent education and training establishments across the country who can help in providing the skills required for the future of the furniture and furnishings industries in this country. They can offer apprenticeship training and courses at BA and MA level covering the requirements of the large manufactures, the bespoke makers and Installers. It is now up to us to provide both the support and the volume of students and trainees required to make courses viable and sustainable.