Members of the Association of Suppliers to the British Clothing Industry (ASBCI) are calling for increased training within the UK's fashion and textiles industry.

A shortage of skilled workers is a key problem to grow manufacturing in Britain, according to speakers at ASBCI's 'Fashioning a future for British clothing manufacturers' conference on Tuesday (25 September).

The industry has an ageing workforce, with a study by the British Fashion Council last year finding that 60% of workers in the sector are over the age of 40.

Attracting new talent into the sector is difficult, with many believing the manufacturing industry suffers an image problem. Jenny Holloway, who runs an apprenticeship programme through Fashion Enter said the industry needs to "make manufacturing sexy".

James Dracup, group managing director at Johnstons of Elgin, said perceptions needs to change, so that working in manufacturing is "not seen as a dead end job".

This change needs to start early, believes Michael Bentley from NW Texnet, an organisation which provides support to technical textile companies: "We have to improve the image of our industry in schools."

Perception is not the only battle however, with Bentley emphasising that there is a shortage of industry specific courses. For larger companies, partnering with local colleges may be the best way of developing a qualified workforce. 

"Mulberry has a relationship with Bridgewater College so they dedicate a number of apprentices a year to go to the college and the college delivers exactly what programme they want," he added.

Meanwhile, British brand J Barbour & Sons has set up an Academy with Hartlepool College to sustain skills within the region by training students to learn technical skills, including pattern cutting, sewing and tailoring.

As the UK government revealed it will invest GBP2m (US$3.2m) to support a new skills programme last week, Bentley said manufacturers have attracted some 200 new apprentices into the sector recently.

The initiative, which is led by a consortium of employers and the Textile Centre of Excellence, is expected to improve the skills of people already working in the sector and develop the next generation of employees.