Fashion industry facing digital skills gap post-Covid - Just Style
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Fashion industry facing digital skills gap post-Covid

By Beth Wright 22 Oct 2020

A new global survey has found while there is clearly still a need for strong fundamental skills in the fashion industry – such as apparel costing, sourcing, and supply chain management – there is a gap in so-called "future" skills that combine 3D digitalisation and data skills with technical skills.

Fashion industry facing digital skills gap post-Covid

A new global survey has found while there is clearly still a need for strong fundamental skills in the fashion industry – such as apparel costing, sourcing, and supply chain management – there is a gap in so-called “future” skills that combine 3D digitalisation and data skills with technical skills.

Pre-Covid, both sustainability and strategic sourcing were top of mind but since the pandemic rocked the industry, digital creation skills have come to the top of the list, according to a new study by fit specialist Alvanon and e-learning platform Motif. 

The firms partnered with 19 leading apparel organisations to conduct a global skills survey to take the pulse of the fashion industry and assess the level of investment in skills by apparel professionals and companies.

The results are revealed in ‘The State of Skills in the Apparel Industry 2020’ report, which represents the views of 900 apparel professionals from across the value chain. 

Now in its second iteration, the survey is part of Motif’s ongoing efforts to address the training and continual learning needs of the apparel industry worldwide. The report aims to highlight how upskilling workforces and investment in continual learning programmes are imperatives to continued success.

Among the findings are that businesses’ priorities are changing, yet investment into those new emergent issues is not matching those needs. For workers in technical roles, there is not enough mid-career development, which is driving increased dissatisfaction.

Meanwhile, the future talent pipeline for the industry is dwindling due to retiring skills, a lack of quality professional training resources, and a shortage of new industry entrants with the relevant skills.

Employee training and skill development remain the top priority for businesses, with 90% of respondents describing it as very important or important, followed by sustainability practices (89%) and strategic sourcing (87%).

Tapping into that desire to enhance supply chain efficiencies, speed-to-market was also highlighted as a key priority among respondents, with 79% rating it as either important or very important.

Digitisation is also emerging as a key theme for 2020, as businesses look to use it as a means of streamlining and enhancing rapidly evolving supply chains.

“There are significant opportunities for businesses to drive competitive advantage through increased digitisation across the supply chain, particularly through 3D design and development,” report authors say. “Digitisation has the capacity to shorten lead times and help get products to market faster, even when people are forced to work remotely.

“As businesses emerge from the pandemic, they will need to re-evaluate their relationship with the supply chain and consider digitisation as a means of gaining more control. This is likely to mean shorter supply chains through nearshoring and onshoring, which will mean moving manufacturing to countries with higher labour costs. These higher costs will need to be offset by increased automation and data-led decision making to maximise profit.”

Elsewhere, finding people with the right skills remains an issue, with 57% reporting that they have difficulty filling certain positions due to a lack of skilled workforce, a slight improvement on the 62% that reported this in 2018.

“We have a lack of skilled people to drive forward the necessary level of change within the industry. And until recently, there wasn’t the right education and trainers available for their people within the market,” says Jackie Lewis, course development director at Motif.

More companies in this year’s survey are looking to upskill current workers, with 46% saying that this was a priority, one that is even more significant for smaller companies, with 53% focusing on upskilling.

Beyond providing training to support short term business execution needs, companies are investing in continual learning to keep up to date with the latest technology and trends (56%), to manage employee satisfaction (44%) and because it’s hard to find the right skills (44%).

The main constant between 2018 and 2020 is overall dissatisfaction with training provided in companies. Only 34% of respondents in this survey across all levels and functions say they are satisfied. This is comparable to 38% in 2018.

For businesses, there remains a gap between the scale of the challenges they are facing and the investment they are placing in creating positive outcomes. Budgets are not allowing for increased investment. Similar to 2018, only 25% have seen an increased investment in the past years and only 33% pre-Covid expected an increase in the next/coming years.

“As an industry we need change agents throughout organisations – individuals, teams, executives who are able to reimagine roles and processes and work differently,” explains Catherine Cole, CEO of Motif. “This may be a disruptive process. To do that, we need people with a new blend of skills. This is the time to reimagine and reinvent roles – within companies and within careers.”

Five key takeaways

  • Future-proofing the business will need to remain a priority to ensure that strategies align with new consumer and operational requirements.
  • Businesses need to ensure that investment matches priority. Sustainability and strategic sourcing are now key issues, but investment in training is not yet matching this.
  • Work towards digitisation strategies across the supply chain to increase speed-to-market. Invest in strategies around 3D that shorten the path from concept to product.
  • Businesses looking at redundancies, need to speak to staff honestly about the future, and look to provide pathways to new roles. Their institutional knowledge and acquisition of new skills will add value in the long term.
  • Continual learning is a tool that drives trust and a retention that will help workers accelerate growth across the business.