Lee Lucas, Principal of Holts Academy (Now British Academy of Jewellery)
Lee ran the Academy in London and is in charge of all the courses it runs.
I'm from Carshalton. I now live in St Margarets, in Richmond.
What job do you do?
I’m the Principal and Director of Holts Academy of Jewellery.
We provide training and qualifications for up-and-coming jewellery and creative practitioners. We also run short courses for people to try out learning a jewellery skill.
How did you get started in jewellery?
I started my career as an apprentice in the IT industry, and went on to become an IT manager.
"This is a huge industry, so immerse yourself in it."
I decided to give other young people the chance to work with me as apprentices and realised that I really enjoyed training them, more so than being an IT manager.
I retrained as a teacher and worked in a number of colleges. I worked my way up, and eventually started writing qualifications for vocational subjects.
I did some study of the jewellery industry, and ended up running Holts Academy of Jewellery. Holts is a unique training provider, and the only one offering courses enabling people to gain the vocational skills the industry needs.
Over the seven years I have been leading it, I believe I have helped change the face of not just the Academy, but also training for the industry.
What qualifications do you have?
I don’t have any formal jewellery qualifications at all. I’m not a jeweller, and am still in awe of those that can make jewellery. I am qualified to Level 6 in Business and IT.
My experience of the industry has been through interactions with people in the trade, running events such as London Jewellery Week, for which I was also a director.
I have experience running training and managing people rather than formal study. I prefer to get stuck straight in.
What previous jobs have you done?
This is my first role in jewellery.
My passion for vocational learning is huge, because I’ve seen how apprenticeships can benefit employers, apprentices, and the economy. I've seen it from all sides.
What do you do at work?
For me, running Holts Academy involves some of the best bits of running a business. Because it's an educational establishment, our aims are a little bit different.
We are a not-for-profit social enterprise, so we are not driven by profit, but rather by the outcomes that we help people achieve.
I approve all the courses we run. I also write some of them.
"As well as the ability to make things or design pieces, you'll need 'softer skills' in planning and business."
I have lots of meetings with traders in the jewellery industry. When we want to develop a new course, I work with them to make sure the training has real value for students and employers.
My aim is for Holts Academy to be as supportive as possible of the wider creative industries.
I also make sure I meet and speak to our students regularly, too. It's important to know what they want to progress on to, because I want to ensure the Academy is helping them.
For example, they might want to start businesses, have the opportunity to showcase and sell their work, or gain employment and apprenticeships.
What's the best thing about your job?
I really enjoy seeing students who are just starting out in jewellery sitting at the bench, learning the skills, and then going on to work in the trade. It’s great to be able to see that journey, and in a small way be a part of it.
And the worst thing about the job?
Occasionally the bureaucracy can mount up!
It can be a challenge having to champion a cause all the time so that our funding needs are met.
How do I get into jewellery?
I'd say this:
- Find your niche
Try and identify what it is in jewellery you want to do. Look at your existing skills and passions, and try and develop an understanding of the types of work out there.
It’s not just about retail, and it’s not just about bench work. Look at the range, find what interests you, and go for it.
You can use websites like Get Into Jewellery and Holts Academy for careers information, and there are also lots of careers and open day events you can attend to get a bit more advice.
- Chase the work experience you need
Finding work in jewellery is as much about what you have done before as it is your skills. Employers want to see real experience.
You might enjoy being creative with your hands, or you might love talking to customers. Many organisations can help with this, and Holts Academy has a dedicated team to assist you with it.
Getting real life experience is key. Anything that adds to your CV and gives potential employers things that they can ask you about, and importantly things that you can draw from at interview, will stand you above others.
- Find out what you need to study
Identify a training provider or college that can give you the training to achieve your goals.
Whether it's an apprenticeship or a degree, you need to get as much technical skill as you can. Once you've found your chosen path, aim to really get stuck in.
Make sure that the skills you will learn will actually be called for in the industry. People get very carried away with creativity and design, but the basis of good technical skills will stand you out from the crowd. These skills include the ability to make trade-quality jewellery by hand, and CAD (Computer-Assisted Design) skills.
Once you have these skills, you can literally sit at a bench and earn a living with just your hands for the rest of your life! There are so few industries and skills where the same is true.
- It's not just about technical skills
Look at the non-jewellery-specific skills that will help you get into a career. As well as the ability to make things or design pieces, you'll need 'softer skills'.
Skills in business, stock-keeping, costing, pricing, paying taxes, planning, and marketing are all important.
Don’t leave these things to someone else. You need to develop an understanding of how the items you might make would ultimately end up in a shop, and in your customers’ hands.
Even if you won't eventually be responsible for all aspects of this, having the knowledge about them helps you at every stage and gives you skills that not everyone will have.
- Networking is important
This is a huge industry, so immerse yourself in it.
Sign up to jewellery industry newsletters. Go to events and trade shows. Meet like-minded people. Make friends. Form networks.
Talk to new people and expand your knowledge at all times.