New pathway for the next furniture generation

Steve Plumstead, Head of Faculty at Kirklees College, talks about the formation of its new furniture apprenticeship scheme following its launch and partnership with Yorkshire-based furniture maker and retailer, HSL.

Over the last couple of years, Kirklees College has been working closely with a range of employers in Dewsbury to identify local skills gaps in the furniture manufacturing sector. The result of this consultation project is the college’s new Level 2 Furniture Making apprenticeship in partnership with HSL (High Seat Ltd).

The first intake of apprentices started back in October last year, with the course offering two pathways, either working towards qualifying as a wood machinist, or a modern upholsterer. Both pathways will develop apprentices’ understanding of the furniture manufacturing process and where they fit into it, from selecting the right materials and hand-crafting pieces, through to meeting customer expectations and quality standards.

“We try to be as employer responsive as possible at Kirklees College,” revealed Steve. “With an international reputation and as a significant employer in the region, HSL was a natural fit for us when they were looking to develop their staff and talent pool.

“There is clearly a need for a highly skilled work force to underpin the furniture industry, so ensuring the right staff have the right qualifications is paramount. We also want to ensure there is a collective aspiration for both the individual and their employer to drive the industry forward.

“We hold employer discussions and focus groups with a multitude of businesses about a variety issues. Upskilling, staff retention, as well higher-level qualifications, all ensure sustained future growth. The region (Kirklees) has an industrious reputation and a well-documented heritage that requires a new and vibrant workforce that can carry us through and expand the industry in area.”

The apprentices will study at Kirklees College’s Brunel Construction Centre during their college hours, where a brand-new specialist CNC machine has just been installed to help train the budding furniture makers. It is hoped that the course will not only equip apprentices with specialist skills, but with a wide range of skills needed to work in a number of roles within the sector.

“We’ll have invested over £100K so far in both staffing and capital resources,” Steve added. “It has taken over 18 months since the initial discussions began and we’ll be in double figures when all sign-ups are in, as the focus primarily is ensuring a quality experience for all parties and to meet everyone’s needs.

“On completion there are several pathways at level 3 the apprentices can take. There is also the potential to follow more academic routes in the sector in both design and administration roles.

“With the qualification reforms, Furniture is featured heavily with the introduction of T Levels in Furniture design. This will be a collaborative approach with the Creative Industries team – it’s interesting how things are coming full circle as it was what I studied at university!

“It also demonstrates the need to blur the boundaries between the creative and manufacturing sectors to ensure young people are aware of the career potential of the furniture industry.

“It has been a pleasure working with HSL to develop the Furniture Making apprenticeship. We hope to generate a lot of interest in the apprenticeship and help kick-start many careers in this thriving local industry.

“Our specialist training facilities at Kirklees College will help support the apprentice’s learning and development of skills during their college hours and we will be here to support them throughout the course.”

Steve Radley, HR Business Partner at HSL Furniture has also played a pivotal role in getting the apprenticeship up and running. He added: “It is great there is now a local provider to meet the training requirements for our furniture manufacturing business.”

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