Developing Staff Skills
It's always better to work with people you know you can rely on, than have to take a chance on new recruits. Showing commitment to your staff will encourage them to make an effort for you and will create a much happier workplace. In the fashion business, however, things change fast, so what can you do to help your staff stay ahead of the curve? How can you invest in staff development and make sure they have the skills to help your business succeed?
Identifying Training NeedsHow can you predict what sorts of skills your staff are likely to need in the future?
There are some skills it's always useful to have. Even if you design all your products yourself, it's useful to have a second person who understands at least the technical aspects of design in case you are off sick when work needs to be done, or in case an opportunity to expand suddenly arises. It's also useful to double up on things like industry-specific software training.
If you are thinking about expanding your range and working with new materials, your staff may need new types of crafting skills. You may also find that you have staff members who are committed and hard working but not fully confident about particular areas of what they do. Inviting their input can help them to feel more positive and valued at the same time as giving you useful feedback on where you need to make your business stronger.
Identifying Good CandidatesOnce you've established the areas in which you want to improve, how do you choose who to train?
The best workers are not always the best learners, and staff members who work hard within your business might not apply themselves the same way on a course. What's more, you have to think about how your business will run whilst staff members are away studying - you might not be able to afford to do without your best people, even for one day a week.
Another important consideration is how your business will benefit from training overall. There's no point investing in somebody who isn't really committed to you and may promptly take their new skills elsewhere. Often the best approach is to look for somebody who not only picks up new ideas quickly but is also good at passing them on. Ideally, you can invest in training one person who will then teach your other workers much of what they have learned.
Accessing Training GrantsTraining courses can be expensive so you'll be glad to hear that you don't have to pay for them all by yourself. Several organisations set up to help small businesses are willing to fund training if you meet their criteria, especially if it will help you to expand and be more productive.
- The European Union - The EU runs two different funding schemes aimed at helping small businesses to finance training. You have a better chance of accessing them if you are based in a deprived area or if your training candidates lack formal qualifications.
- Central government - Grants of this sort usually need to be matched by equivalent contributions from your business, i.e. you'll have to pay for half the training yourself. A good way to get one is to emphasise how training will increase your chance of successfully exporting the clothes you make.
- Devolved government organisations - Both Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own government agencies dedicated to investment in training for small businesses, with grants of several thousand pounds available.
- Regional Development Agencies - These are very variable in terms of what they will fund, but tend to prioritise groups in deprived areas with only a small number of staff.
- Local councils - These tend to fund on a project basis; for instance, they will put money into a particular industry or a particular urban area. Watch them closely so you can quickly pitch for appropriate schemes when they come up.
Facilitating TrainingYou might feel that access to free training is a reward in itself, but of course your staff will still need to make a living, so you will usually need to pay them for days they spend on courses. You will also need to budget for any decrease in production caused by people being away.
One way to minimise the impact of this is to start planning your production schedule as soon as you confirm that the training will take place. Arrange things so that jobs you need particular staff members for don't clash with training days, and try to fill training days with simpler, lighter work. This will also boost the morale of those who don't get to participate.