Craft skills: ten years on

,  21 April 2014

What does the future hold for craft skills? It's time to look back in celebration at how far the craft industry has come, while carefully planning ahead to ensure that we're keeping up with its skills needs.

"Expanded entry routes are required to help diversify the craft workforce." Image: David Bedford hand engraver, © Robin Wood

In early 2003 I found myself representing the craft sector at an eclectic gathering of organisations from across the creative and cultural sector.   

From performing arts to museums, from advertising to literature, we had gathered to discuss setting up an employer-led Sector Skills Council to support the skills needs of the creative and cultural industries.

Establishing Creative & Cultural Skills was a landmark moment for craft.

As the months progressed, the group came together around the interests of music, design, advertising, craft, cultural heritage and the literary, visual and performing arts.

Our apparently disparate group found much common ground and a growing sense of shared purpose. A year later, in 2004, we were delighted to announce the establishment of Creative & Cultural Skills. 

This was a landmark moment for craft, providing as it did a focal point for the sector within this new, employer-led skills framework. By 2005, it was granted a licence from the Government. 

Challenges to craft skills development

On the face of it, craft makers have many common interests and concerns. But there remain challenges to providing a unified focus for skills development, such as:

  • material diversity
  • geographical spread
  • craft businesses largely being micro businesses.

As a consequence, support for the specialist skills of the craft maker have become marginalised in an industrially-focused and generalist skills support system. (A more detailed history of support for craft skills can be found in section one of Towards a definition of heritage craft.)

Since its formation, Creative & Cultural Skills has worked to research the needs of the craft sector, publishing findings in the Creative Blueprint for Craft.

It has gone on to develop standards, qualifications and apprenticeships, as well founding the Craft Skills Awards, working with sector partners such as the Heritage Crafts Association, the Crafts Council and the Livery Companies Skills Council.

The Craft Industry Board

One of the most significant and encouraging developments has been the creation of the Craft Industry Board. The board brings together leaders from across the UK craft sector to establish a more strategic approach to boosting economic growth and sustainability across craft.

However, despite this evident progress, there is still much to be done. There is a pressing need to reinvigorate craft education in schools, particularly in the face of challenges presented by the new curriculum. 

There is a pressing need to reinvigorate craft education in schools.

Expanded entry routes are required to help diversify the workforce, and there is a need to support craft in further and higher education.

To carry craft skills into the future, we must develop further craft standards and qualifications and ensure apprenticeship frameworks are fit for purpose. 

These challenges are well documented, both in the Crafts Council’s Studying Craft, Trends in Education and Training and in Mapping Heritage Craft.

Finally, the sector would benefit from continued professional development and business support at all levels – support which recognises the particular challenges of a sector largely comprised of micro businesses and sole traders.

Ten years of craft skills

So this ten-year anniversary of the formation of Creative & Cultural Skills does not mark a job done. But it's a moment to celebrate and acknowledge the partnerships built, the knowledge gained, and the encouraging commitment to the future of the sector.

I for one will raise a glass to that.

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