Addressing the Skills Shortage
For 250 years Joshua Ellis has been an important employer within the Batley area and an integral part of the community.
When the business was growing significantly in the 19th and early 20th centuries finding new employees from the local area was easy. Sons and daughters would often follow their parents into work in the mill on the promise of good working conditions and a steady wage.
In the 1980s the UK Textile Industry started a period of decline due in part to the major retailers looking to cheaper alternatives in Europe and the Far East. Mills and factories shut down all too frequently so in key Textile centres such as Huddersfield, Bradford, Manchester and Nottingham it meant that skills were in an abundance. There were many more skilled people looking for work than there were jobs to offer them. As a result, many thousands of older workers took retirement while younger members of the workforce re-trained in industry sectors that were doing relatively well compared to the textile industry.
Fast forward 30 years and now the UK textile industry is back in growth and prospering. An ever-increasing global community of luxury and couture fashion labels all appreciate the ‘Made in UK’ label and the stamp of quality that comes with it. However, skills that are essential to the success of this industry are still in decline and the skills shortage remains the greatest threat to our industry in the medium to long-term.
At Joshua Ellis, we employ 58 people at our mill in Batley…. a far cry from the high of over 300 employees only 25 years ago. 40 people are directly involved in the production of our fabrics and accessories and the average time frame working at Joshua Ellis is over 32 years!
That figure shows the level of expertise and craftsmanship we have in our business but, viewed another way, it shows our vulnerability as we look forward into the future. Indeed, nine of the production team are due to retire in the next 5 years.
In order to future proof our business we now have 6 young people in our production facility who have undertaken modern apprentices. This represents over 15% of our production team. Working closely in line with the Huddersfield Textile Centre each team member is undergoing a thorough training both internally ‘on the job’ and externally in the classroom where they undertake a traditional education of coursework and examinations.
Our modern apprentices have taken on a range of different skills, from weaving, winding, twisting, finishing, dyeing and colour matching, they are involved in many different aspects of our business.
‘Our apprentices are examples of the sort of young people we are looking for’ said Steve Wilson, Production Director. ‘they are diligent, hard-working and have a long and successful career in front of them here at Joshua Ellis. As we look to expand they are very much part of that journey.’
But we are not stopping there. As Joshua Ellis plans to grow over the next few years we plan to also increase the number of apprentices and we hope to recruit one or two new apprentices each year for the next 5 years. This strategy will safeguard a number of skills that otherwise would leave the business as employees take well-earned retirement and hopefully set the business up for another 250 years.