The furniture industry faces a number of challenges – not least of them, the long-term impact of a growing skills shortage. Last year, FIESTA was formed – a new trade organisation which aims to address current and future skills needs by encouraging talented new workers to join the industry, and ensuring relevant training and qualifications are in place to support them.

Given the likely impact of Brexit, coupled with new apprenticeship legislation, the formation of the Furniture and Interiors Education, Skills and Training Alliance (FIESTA) is a timely one. Gary Baker – the MD of Corian distrubutor CD (UK), and FIESTA’s chairman – tells Furniture & Joinery Production more about the organisation…

FIESTA chairman, Gary Baker

Why was FIESTA formed?

The UK has a thriving furniture and interiors sector, with more than 8000 businesses employing over 250,000 people and contributing £11b to the UK’s GDP. It is a design-led industry that contains many world-beating businesses. 

For the sector to continue to grow, it is essential that we continue to attract the very best school leavers and graduates. FIESTA was formed to unite and inspire furniture and interiors businesses, helping the industry become a sector of choice within the UK by facilitating internationally-recognised skills development.

Who is involved?

The key to FIESTA’s viability is that we are employer led – we have therefore brought together the key trade associations and affiliates which represent manufacturers and designers in this sector, together with the sector’s charity, The Furniture Makers’ Company.

FIESTA’s members include the Association of Master Upholsterers and Soft Furnishers (AMUSF), the British Contract Furnishing Association (BCFA), the British Furniture Manufacturers (BFM), The Furniture Makers’ Company, the Kitchen, Bedrooms, Bathrooms National Training Group (KBB NTG), the Kitchen, Bathroom, Bedroom Specialists Association (KBSA), The Kitchen Education Trust (TKET) and the National Bed Federation (NBF).

FIESTA will also work with the British Furniture Confederation (BFC) to communicate education and training needs to the Government.

FIESTA was formed off the back of The Furniture Makers’ Company’s conference last year, which focused on the apprenticeship levy. What impact has the levy had on the industry to date?

The apprenticeship levy came into effect in April 2017, and is part of the Government’s commitment to creating three million apprenticeships in England by 2020. The levy requires all employers operating in the UK with an annual pay bill of more than £3m to spend 0.5% of the total to help fund apprenticeships.

The impact of the levy so far has been disappointing. Recent research by the Education Apprenticeship Service has shown that almost half of eligible employers haven’t signed up for an account with the Apprenticeship Service. Just 10,500 accounts were set up by the end of August – barely half of the 19,150 predicted by the Department for Education.

There have been 34,700 ‘commitments’ to take on an apprentice using the new service since May – of these, 8000 are still pending approval. 

How can furniture manufacturers make the best of the new apprentice environment?

Despite the disappointing start, it is essential that companies do not see the Apprenticeship Levy as just another tax, but instead make the most of the new levy funding to put in place a well-planned apprenticeship programme. 

The training costs for large employers can be funded from the levy, so it is in their interests to maximise their training in line with their growth plans for the future. 

Meanwhile, companies ineligible to pay the levy can benefit from Government support to fund apprenticeship training, with the charge being a fraction of what it costs to train each apprentice. 

Take the opportunity to review your current and future skills requirements, identify gaps, and plan the best way to prepare your workforce for tomorrow’s challenges.

What is FIESTA doing to help manufacturers access the levy?

FIESTA is working to set up an approved Apprentice Training Agency (ATA) for the furniture and interiors sector. ATAs recruit, employ and arrange training for apprentices on behalf of employers, and are designed and regulated to support both large and small members who wish to take advantage of the many benefits of the new training environment. We will provide more details of this initiative shortly.

How can people find out more?

FIESTA has launched a dedicated website to support its mission of addressing education and training issues within the industry. The new, easy-to-use platform features useful information for employers as well as people wishing to pursue a career in the industry, plus case studies, the latest news from the organisation and an events section.