The 2015 CareerCast jobs report, which highlights the most threatened industries, claimed that out of 200 job roles, jewellers are the fifth most at risk, with 10% of roles expected to be lost by 2022. As a jewellery business owner and founder of the largest jewellery training academy in the country, Jason Holt is concerned.
Here Jason Holt shares his thoughts with Professional Jewelller…
Seeing a sector you love and spend your life promoting on a list of endangered jobs gives you a jolt. The UK jewellery industry has gone through an intense period of change in recent years and we need stability, not more change. The transformation started in the 1990s with competition arriving from emerging economies. It prompted a decline in the amount of jewellery manufactured in the UK and a huge drop in the volume of items being hallmarked here. We are still a big sector with around 6,500 jewellery businesses in the country employing over 50,000 people directly and supporting a number of other professionals, such as auctioneers, repairers, suppliers of stones and materials and tool makers. But to maintain our size and importance it is essential we understand why this decline is predicted and consider how we shore up the sector to stave it off.
The jewellery sector has always been vulnerable to external factors; primarily the world wide prices and availability of platinum, gold, silver and gemstones and demand heavily influenced by disposable income and consumer confidence. The new factor threatening us is technology. Many of the jobs in the top 10 endangered sectors are changing due to technology. Demand for mail delivery people (the trade under biggest threat) falls as more correspondence goes via text or email and more money is transferred via direct debit and paypal. Metre readers (the second most at risk) are hit as technology means utility usage can be tracked electronically.
Two years ago Professional Jeweller ran a piece highlighting that jewellery has been one of the slowest sectors to latch onto new technology. We need to utilise technology for our own good, to make it work for us and not against us. So many of the employers we work with have already realized this. At Holts Academy one of our most popular courses over the last ten years, for both those just starting out, and for employers upskilling their staff, have been our CAD/CAM courses. We continue to see their popularity as more and more jewellery firms realise this is where they have their biggest skills gaps. CAD skills requirements will only grow as the industry embraces technology further.
To maintain the UK jewellery industry, all members of the trade need to have up to date skills, not just in technology but in innovation and creativity in design, in new manufacturing techniques and in offering clients a fantastic retail experience. Employers report that they encounter skills gaps in all these areas. Sometimes they find this is inside their own business, caused by a lack of time or funding for training. Sometimes this arises when they have tried and struggled to recruit new staff. There are now more calls too for training in use of social media, online business tools and online marketing.
Some jewellery schools now run online courses but I believe that nothing can beat the direction you get and nuances of technique that come from learning hands on with an expert jeweller, someone trained in the traditional skills. A book or a website can give you knowledge – only a tutor can teach you skills. They will help you hone your talents to maximise your speed and expertise. They will also be able to show you where going the extra mile, and spending a little longer, will make a piece perfect. This is why I am passionate about Apprenticeships and think they can make a massive difference in teaching the skills needed to maintain the jewellery sector. Funded by government and run within the workplace they provide on and off the job training. The apprentice benefits from learning business and client skills directly from their employer but will also receive tutelage in the newest and most innovative techniques. This will help secure the future of the sector. This is why government have identified Apprenticeships as the best model to grow businesses and see them as the way to increase economic productivity. This why there are now more apprentices learning than ever before in the UK.
My vision is that if we each, as jewellery business owners, take an apprentice into our business we have a chance to reverse the decline in the UK, start to take back our pride of place in the world and ensure that, by 2022, jewellery is a ‘go to’ , not a ‘run from’ career.