Is uni the right place for basic making skills?

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Jeweller Robin Bell discusses the needs of the industry vs teaching.

By Robin Bell

If you had spent three years studying a jewellery course and by the end you couldn’t carry out the most basic of tasks related to the subject, would you be satisfied that your time had been well spent?

Can you imagine not being able to differentiate between basic hand tools or how to use them? Not knowing how to make a simple ring? For some graduates this is a reality. A lack of emphasis on the most basic of skills seems to be an increasingly accepted practice at universities across the UK.

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If a degree course accepts a candidate who has a wonderful portfolio but lacks previous experience, there needs to be some form of training during that course to provide them with at least the basics. Regular skill tests could also be established; they might not be flashy but they are what many students need.

A level of assistance should always be available. This is where technicians come into the picture, or perhaps I should say technician. Sweeping cuts across education mean fewer staff are expected to do more work and there might be just one technician to maintain the workshop and provide technical assistance for 50 or more students. That’s a little bit out of balance if you ask me.

You could argue that students seeking vocational skills should go to a college but unfortunately we live in a culture where school leavers are pushed towards university, meaning college is often regarded as the fall back option. Then there are apprenticeships, but there are still only a handful of them around and it would be incredibly tough for a 30-year-old career changer, for example, to live on such a small wage.

A wider selection of courses could help. After all, there are a lot of specialisms within our industry. Could universities provide some of these skills by working with local jewellery firms? Or maybe universities could simply work to ensure the basics of making are taught – if it isn’t beneath them.

I hope to inspire a real discussion about jewellery education. And if anyone is wondering, I learned at the bench, before going on to study at college and then university.

This Guest Column was taken from the March issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the issue in full online, click here
 

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