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Short on skills

Poor understanding of different career paths and a lack of quality technical courses means there aren't enough skilled candidates for retailers and brands.

Fashion retailers and brands are crying out for candidates with specialist technical skills, but a lack of understanding about the variety of career paths available and the country's well-documented skills gap - the impetus behind Drapers' own Save Our Skills campaign - in this sector means that prospective employees with the right skill sets can be hard to come by.

Charlotte Ayres, senior consultant for design, production, technical and sales at Fashion &Retail Personnel, says: "I have a lot of technical roles available at the moment such as pattern cutters or graders. There's high demand for people that have Gerber or Lectra experience because they just seem to be a dying breed."

Emma Jones, senior people manager at lifestyle retailer White Stuff, agrees: "We tend to get a lower volume of response for technical roles. There appears to be a gap in the market with the sort of experience we look for. Graduates tend to want to go down the product development route and ultimately end up in buying careers. Garment technologists appear to be getting rarer, as if it's a lost trade.

"Overseas suppliers can provide these skills where there has been a gap in the market for British talent. If we saw an increase in the number of British manufacturers, maybe we would see an increase in the number of people with the sort of skills we are looking for."

Ayres reveals of the 23 positions she's recruiting for at the moment, 10 of them are technical. In a bid to plug the gap she's now working more closely with Manchester Metropolitan University, which is known for its technical graduates.

However, despite the demand for candidates with technical skills, salaries are lower than in other areas such as buying and merchandising. Average London salaries differ only slightly from those outside of the capital, and range from£28,061 for garment technologists to £49,825 for technical manager positions.

Ayres agrees that technical candidates should be paid higher salaries in recognition of the demand. However, she says employers are waking up to the need to offer competitive benefits packages. "It takes time to get those things in place, but I think many are realising that in order to attract and retain staff they are going to want certain benefits," she concludes.

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