More than 1,500 fashion and textile firms in England are to get help to beat skills shortages and build a world-class workforce through a GBP24.5m (US$42.5m) funding boost from the government.

A key feature of the new three-year deal, just-style has been told, is that it does not just support entry-level jobs at the lower end of the skills market, but will also tackle higher level skills gaps in areas such as design, manufacturing and servicing.

The fashion and textiles sector, which contributes around GBP10bn to the UK economy each year, needs to recruit an estimated 34,000 new workers over the next five years. 

The 79,000 firms in the two industries must also develop the skills of their existing workforce if they are to compete successfully in profitable niche markets such as luxury branded apparel and accessories and technical textile development. 

The new agreement is designed to support the industry in developing craft and technical skills to underpin that competitive edge.

The deal was negotiated by Skillfast-UK, the Sector Skills Council for fashion and textiles.

Linda Florance, Skillfast-UK's chief executive, said: "This deal represents a dramatic increase in Government support for skills in the sector, but, more importantly, it puts the investment where it can make the most difference."

She added: "Our figures show that the annual spend from the public purse invested GBP110m in training for this sector, yet only GBP1m of this went into training in the workplace - which is the training employers say is most effective. 

The funding will be used to support training towards qualifications at entry, technical and management levels. It will also fund 500 new apprenticeships.

Commenting on the announcement, Peter Davis, production director of Loakes Brothers, the English footwear company, said: "As a manufacturer of English traditional footwear, we compete with manufacturers from all over the world. 

"We can't compete with companies in low-cost labour markets on the basis of price, so we have to sell on quality.  That means training is essential. 

"We support any move to increase skills in the industry, so if this new agreement can widen the number of companies who train their staff, and the number of qualified employees, then it is great news for the sector."

The ink is still drying on the deal, but Skillfast-UK hopes to meet with government officials before Christmas to determine how to get the funding out into businesses.