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Upskilling for Impact in the Apparel Industry

by Elisabeth Souquet

by Elisabeth Souquet

Marketing Director, MOTIF

The Apparel industry has been under intense scrutiny over the extent of its negative environmental impact, ever since the disputed allegation that fashion was the second most polluting industry in the world. Meanwhile, the industry has hardly faired better from an ethical standpoint, with regular scandals highlighting its failing ability to mitigate against the risks of forced labour, child labour, hazardous working conditions and general exploitation in its supply chains. Articles about brands’ sustainability initiatives, commitments or pledges have been flooding the news daily over the past 3 years, yet the prevalent business model of fast fashion remains lightly questioned, making traceability, transparency and accountability deeply rooted issues within the industry.

Upskilling your employees to combat the crisis

The current management of the Covid-19 crisis is yet another illustration of the ambivalence of the industry: lauded for its undeniable effort of solidarity to produce masks, gel alcohol and medical equipment while major brands are being named and shamed for cancelling and delaying orders, including orders already in production or that were ready for shipment, de facto putting millions of workers, in Asia and Bangladesh in particular, out of a livelihood. There are also reports across the industry of sustainability programmes being placed on the back burner as brands and retailers navigate the crisis in survival across-the-board cost-cutting mode. The temptation is high to pause or delay transformational initiatives or new technology investment, which in many cases are key enablers of more sustainable practices. An assessment of impact invariably comes to consider the scope, durability, irreversibility, and scalability of the desired outcome; in effect how pervasively, deeply and quickly the object of influence is changed. If sustainability is to make an impactful stride in the fashion industry, which is heavily people-reliant, it cannot do so without a massive and continued investment in education, skills and innovation in a broad sense, from a technology, process and practices perspective. The industry simply cannot afford to wait for a next generation of workers to come to the market readily equipped with these skills. It needs to clean up its act, upskill and reskill the millions it employs now. The time for tepid moves is gone.

The industry needs to clean up its act, upskill and reskill the millions it employs now. The time for tepid moves is gone.

MOTIF was born almost 3 years ago from the realisation that the apparel industry was ill-equipped to address an increasing and alarming skills gap affecting its current workforce. On the one hand, it was at risk of losing fundamental technical skills, notably due to its failing in capturing and transferring the knowledge and skills of a whole generation of workers on the verge of retirement. On the other hand, it wasn’t upskilling its workforce fast enough with the new digital and transformational skills needed to cope with the challenges of Industry 4.0 and the sustainability imperative. Combining industry content expertise with the flexibility and scalability of online learning, MOTIF embarked on its ambitious mission to bridge this skills gap. 

MOTIF’s online courses bridge the skills gap in the apparel industry

It was thus no coincidence that among the first courses offered on its learning platform featured a Sustainability in Fashion introductory online course by the BF+DA and Pratt Institute. As 60-80% of the product impact on sustainability lies in decisions made at the design and development stage, empowering individual designers and product development teams alike so they can drive innovation and change is essential. Sustainability being a vast and complex field, multidisciplinary and constantly evolving, choices to be made are anything but binary. The Sustainability in Fashion course introduces the various sustainable strategies that can be considered at each stage of the product lifecycle and the trade-offs to be made. 

A course allying the fundamentals of fit for the booming Plus Sizes segment, as well as a unique course to help kickstart the move from 2D to 3D apparel product development confidently, are among the latest releases on the MOTIF e-learning platform. The latter is especially well suited for learning as a team. It supports teams in identifying their own compelling reason for adopting 3D and building their business case through to laying the foundations for a successful implementation of 3D into business-as-usual processes. Learners get equipped with best practices in project and change management learning at a pace that fits their agenda and workloads. To respond to the current coronavirus crisis, MOTIF has also just released a course by Eurofins | AQM to help apparel factories resume operations safely and efficiently.

Impact for MOTIF also means keeping abreast of the latest developments in learning science and methodologies, as well as the new technologies that can support the integration of these advances into the design of our online and blended courses. We aim at constantly improving our learning experience so it remains highly engaging and effective. We focus on ensuring a tangible return of investment at the individual learner’s, at the team, and up to the enterprise level. Skills gained need to be applied in context to make a difference in the day to day job, to increase the productivity and sense of purpose and achievement of staff. A continued thinking on embedding a highly social and collaborative approach in learning, knowledge retention mechanisms, blending online and offline interactions as well as personalised and incremental learning paths, are driving the evolution of our learning experience. We believe they are key to effectively support lateral and vertical career development and the empowerment of teams, with a combination of technical industry skills and soft skills such as critical thinking and virtual team collaboration.

Call out to industry: share knowledge with young talent

Important sustainability foundational work has begun throughout the industry, progress has been made by many actors and is starting to pay-off. Putting a halt to investment in people training and transformational programs in this time of crisis and uncertainty may very well backfire. An increased focus on pivotal innovations is necessary to define the future of the industry and emerge stronger in the longer term. The level of sophistication and flexibility brought by online learning has proven its effectiveness to address the need for continuous development for professionals and its advantages and power are all the more obvious at a time when staff are working remotely at an unprecedented scale, across all actors of the supply chain. Past research has shown that companies with a strong learning mindset and innovation culture that stay committed to investing in their people in times of economic hardship are the first to benefit from recovery. This is also important in terms of employer branding as Millennials, who are now the largest working generation, rank having a strong sense of purpose and making an impact, among the top reasons that would make them join or stay with a company.

Companies with a strong learning mindset and innovation culture that stay committed to investing in their people in times of economic hardship are the first to benefit from recovery.

 

Finally, in our quest of impact, an essential piece of the equation is industry-wide knowledge sharing and collaboration. At MOTIF, we are all about providing tools and resources for companies and individuals to identify, share and obtain knowledge, all in a digital environment. oOur vision is to be the hub for shared knowledge, for individuals, companies and passionate communities setting out for industry change.

A lot of knowledge resides in the heads of experienced practitioners. Other industries have fared much better in coming together to share knowledge and fostering a pipeline of new talent with that knowledge – in a way that benefits the industry as a whole. It’s high time for our industry to do the same. So, this is our callout: if you have expertise, as an experienced professional or community, as an industry body or faculty, or as a corporation willing to share best practices or champion the development of professional education material, we need you! We’re on the lookout for broad strategic expertise as well as very niche technical expertise. If you hold dear the betterment of the industry like we do, reach out and let’s collaborate for even greater impact!

Note: This post was originally published as an article in The Mills Fabrica Weave in July 2020.

Sustainability in Fashion Online Course

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