IN DEPTH: How adult learners are shaping the trade

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Investigating adult education and its impact on the industry.

 

As confidence grows in our industry it’s not just school leavers who are taking their shot at a career in jewellery.Adult education is gaining momentum with part-time courses perfectly designed to suit hectic schedules. Professional Jeweller’s Sarah Louise Jordan meets the course leaders and success-stories changing the face of the jewellery industry.

For Professional Jeweller Hot 100 2014 Nexgem Richard Burton of Rich-Jewellery, putting down his carpentry tools and taking his place at the bench was the culmination of a lifetime of passion for exquisite craftsmanship.

When the building trade suffered its first major blow during the recession, Burton refused to be beaten and decided to start searching for training courses.

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“I was turning 40 and I was worried I would be too old to find training and fit into a new industry,” he explains. “But I like a challenge and I have other skills that I knew younger people wouldn’t have, like communication, management and sales.”

Using this life experience to his advantage, Burton found Holts Academy online and signed up for a manufacturing course. “We had 14 women, three men and five different nationalities on the course, so it was open to anyone, any age,” he adds.
“I found work experience with a designer and spent a couple of years gaining as much knowledge as I could. I did another training course in CAD and slowly developed a collection.”

Fortunately, Burton’s experience of a welcoming education platform for adults isn’t just contained to the four walls of Holts Academy. The UK’s extensive network of part-time adult education courses, qualifications and workshops is bursting at the seams with talented designer-makers, who are turning their inklings into hobbies, hobbies into businesses, and small-scale businesses into full-blown careers.

Joanne Haywood is the jewellery co-ordinator at London-based adult education centre City Lit, and she regularly works with students who fit training around a busy schedule at home. “We have a real mix across the board from beginner, intermediate and advanced,” she explains.

“We run lots of short courses and specialist technique courses, and then we have our accredited courses run at City and Guilds at Level 1 to 3. Those students are with us one day a week for an academic year.”

One look at the City Lit website is enough to bring the average hobbyist out in a cold sweat — the sheer amount of choice is astronomical, and then you have the levels to content with. According to the City and Guilds website Level 1 can be equated to a GCSE grade D to G, while a Level 3 is similar to an A-Level in the subject.

Haywood admits that she sees a plethora of students from other BA and MA degree courses coming to City Lit to top-up their skills in certain areas, courtesy of the institution’s masterclasses, but they’re regularly sat alongside second-jobbers, full-time mothers and ex-City workers flexing their creative muscles.

She explains: “We see students that can’t afford to do a degree and we will probably see more and more of that over the next few years. Students applying for the accredited courses, especially at the higher levels, often want to make jewellery their career. Yet sometimes people just fall into it without the expectation that they will one day [be a designer-maker] as a job. Even on the Level 2 and 3 City and Guilds, not everyone is there to develop a career. Some people just want to push themselves a bit.”

But in this mixed-intention environment, where hobbyists mix with determined careerists, how can serious players make their mark? Haywood believes this comes in the form of one-to-one, professional and practical advice about the true nature of the jewellery industry — something that is often romanticised by younger generations at university.

She comments: “We make it clear how tough it is to make it in the industry and how hard you have to work. We are realistic. We want them [the students] to be ambitious and have high expectations.”

For City Lit graduate Emily Bedford, her experience of adult education has been packed full of awards, lessons and success. Having won the Adult Learners Regional Award in 2014, she is now on a year-long emerging maker-in-residence programme at City Lit, designed to bridge the gap between students finishing courses and setting up a business.

“My experience at City Lit has been only positive,” Bedford explains. “I hadn’t anticipated the warmth and supportive atmosphere I would encounter and all of the opportunities and friendships that resulted. It was of constant interest to learn what people were doing outside the course and the range of jobs people had; there were actors, nurses, teachers,
architects and people from City jobs. There is no one that would not feel comfortable and welcome.”

Interestingly, Bedford feels that she is now part of a “network of jewellers” — suggesting that even part-time adult education can produce the sense of community and build the contacts regularly relied upon in the industry.

Truro and Penwith College programme team leader for Art and Design, Martin Page, oversees a packed schedule of beginners’ courses, foundation degrees and top-up BA courses, with 70% of part time courses taken-up by adult learners.

Says Page of the strength of his part-time courses: “The difference between doing a course at Truro in comparison to say, Holts Academy, is that we have students who wouldn’t want to travel to London [to study]. What we have in Cornwall is a kind of single person art and design industry, with many students going on to become successful designer-makers.”

However, Page is keen to stress that the courses on offer at Truro are inherently practical; focusing less on design skills and more on making — something that would be looked upon fondly by York School of Jewellery principal Nik Stanbury.
“We took the decision very early on not to give qualifications,” he explains.

“I think there are certain qualifications that can be obtained from very specific establishments that are absolutely worth every penny. For example, Goldsmiths’ Hall is astonishingly good at what it does.” But for Stanbury, the emphasis on gaining qualifications, especially degrees from universities and colleges, takes away from the fact that a solid education in jewellery manufacture has to be done at the bench, no matter what age or level you are.

He continues: “We’ve been asked to do qualifications, like NVQs, but quite frankly it would mean lowering our standards. Sometimes qualifications can be a hindrance rather than a help. We regularly retrain people who have not only done degrees, but master’s degrees, so they can do the job in the real world.”

Instead of reading this as deep-rooted cynicism, Stanbury is positive that second-jobbers and adult learners can make it in the competitive world of jewellery, but suggests they seek out expert tuition rather than scrolls of paper.

He continues: “You should be looking for three things; the quality of the teaching, workshop facilities and the approach to learning. Are you able to bounce from diamond setting to bronze casting? Can your tutor do that, or are there tutors within the group that can?”

And despite gaining her qualifications, Emily Bedford agrees that the allure of jewellery making isn’t just about grades on a school report. She explains: “A friend of my mother’s was a jeweller and from the age of seven I used to watch her work. I made no judgement about whether or not she had a degree or what famous person she studied with, or what galleries sold her work. I had no idea and wouldn’t have cared. I just loved what I saw.”

With this in mind, it becomes more and more apparent that age is just a number, secondary to the quality and breadth of training. For Richard Burton, the universally tricky challenge of finding capital has been more of an impediment to his burgeoning jewellery business than his years. “Finance is the main problem,” he admits. “So I have set a plan and some goals and I’m taking my time to build stock and portfolio.”

He muses: “It is hard to stand out from the crowd and maybe being older has helped. I took my time to find out what I’m really about and try and let my personality show in my work.”

Truro college leader Martin Page summarises the impact of adult education, not only on an individual’s skill-set but also on their attitude by concluding: “Their [the students’] aspirations expand as they do the course. They suddenly realise that making jewellery and being part of this industry is much bigger than just making some wire earrings and selling them in a market. It gives them the confidence to know they can go that much further.”

This feature was taken from the October issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the issue in full online, click here.

 

 

 

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