In an atypical guest post, WhichPLM is today supporting Dr. Julie Becker in her quest to further educate and reshape the employees of tomorrow. Dr. Becker is a long-standing member of the WhichPLM community, with an ardour for fashion and education – something we know a great deal about.
“It’s supposed to be hard, if it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great!” said Tom Hanks to Geena Davis in the well-known 1992 movie, A League of Their Own.
This is where my story begins… as a practitioner and college educator, wedged between two worlds. My passion is Fashion, not baseball in this case, but the passion is the same, “[It] gets inside you, it’s what lights you up.” That’s why we do it, why I teach it, why this is my career passion.
Prior to becoming a product developer/designer/industrial engineer for a major company in the United States, I was a fine arts student; I was that student that I now teach in my classroom. I loved to draw, create, and sew patterns for product development; eagar to enter the workforce with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. As a naïve 21 year old, my first career took me into the retail management field at a fabric store. Soon I realized that I should have paid more attention to my fiber science teacher in class, and I didn’t know that my retail math classes were so important when faced with markdowns and merchandise control. I found myself asking why anyone didn’t tell me in school the critical classes to take to help me in the real world of fashion. I didn’t know what I didn’t know until I gained on-the-job experience. I had a good educational foundation, but I knew I had knowledge gaps in what I learned in school and what I needed to know in the workforce.
I later realized that in order to advance in my career, I required more training. Because I enjoyed textiles immensely, I decided to concentrate further in this area. I became a student again to continue my education in textile science, design, and garment construction – also learning how to perform research using statistics, finally graduating with a Master’s degree.
As I re-entered the workforce in my second career phase working for a large corporation was my fate. During the next 15 years, I was involved in talent acquisitions, focusing on hires with skills in product development, textiles knowledge, pattern development using CAD, sewing, and supply chain management. At that time, the emerging technologies were PC based CAD, project management systems, and CNC industrial cutters, DOS operating systems were becoming the norm.
Several years into management, much to my dismay, finding talent in these areas was getting more and more difficult. I kept asking the questions, “Where were the students that had classes like the ones I took in school?” and “Where are the employees that know how to sew, make patterns, and understand repeat changes, bow and skew, and tech packs, and understood how to use a computer?” My main concern at this time was training, training, training – I was getting so frustrated that I couldn’t find talent in these areas. I pondered about the school’s curriculum and the caliber of the students requesting job interviews. Are the schools’ curriculum staying current with industries’ changing needs?
Faced with this dilemma, I took matters into my own hands and developed a short product development course in-house at my company. I reached out and partnered with two major universities within the geographical area; offering this course to college students. The 12-week course involved drafting patterns manually, developing designs on the CAD system, creating Bills of Materials, Sewing Illustrations and Tech Pack, then finalizing the cut and sewn product using an industrial fabric cutter.
From that short course, attended by 30 students each semester, I was able to hire the best. I taught this course for several years in-house and then, several years later, this course became a permanent part of one of the college’s curriculum for their Apparel, Textiles, and Merchandising Program. I found that at that time, colleges were not aware of the changing needs of industry; technology was moving so fast that the education system was not staying current.
I share this brief story now, as I enter my next career phase as a full time tenured faculty at a college university. It is now my time to make sure what I teach and to ensure others, like me, stay engaged with industry. I need practitioners’ help; I need your help. I am now faced with this similar situation, from an educator’s perspective.
Everything is changing again; The Internet of Things (IoT) is here, technology is changing, students’ interests are changing, the focus in the fashion industry is changing – yet some of the fundamentals of product design, 2D, 3D CAD development, analytical assessments, PLM and supply chain management are still essential for students to be successful in our industry.
Students need to know they have a future in this industry. It is essential that they learn the core skill elements that are used in the everyday lives of the practitioners. They need to understand that some of the hard classes are the important classes to take to fill the gaps of knowledge that practitioners see every day. Students need to recognize the critical skills important for their careers in this field.
And to this end, I pose several questions:
- What do ‘soft good’ educators need to focus on in order to better prepare students for industry? What is needed in the curriculum?
- What skills are most important that practitioners need and educators should teach?
- How can a practitioner and educator, and others like me, convey to students the importance of the “hard” (as Tom Hanks put it)?
- How do you promote that the business of fashion is engineering, has analytics, involves technology, molecular structures, nanotechnology, e-commerce, and is part of the language of everyone’s lives?
- How can we place our students in your company with the skills you need so you don’t have to train them?
- How can I get your help for the future of our industry?
My quest started with a personal journey of knowledge. I want to be the best at what I do, and to take my past experiences as a practitioner, and a life-long learner turned educator, and give-back to the industry that I am so passionate about.
Now, I want to reach out to others that are faced with the similar skills gap dilemma that I experienced. I am seeking knowledge to help educate the youth that will ultimately help the future of our industry.
As part of my research, based on my past experience along with feedback from industrial contacts, I created a brief survey targeting specific skill sets that are needed in the textile/soft goods workforces. As business strategies change, corporate climates, skills and technology must also change.
The goal of this survey is to better understand, adjust, develop and/or deliver curriculum to students that is relevant and reflective of industrial needs. The survey is designed to rank skills in nine different categories according to their importance in your industry. Included in the survey is an additional feedback mechanism for input on skills specific to your expertise and/or for skills not listed.
Please help the educators reshape and prepare your future employees, and the future leaders of our industry by taking this brief survey (less than 10 minutes of your time).
A heartfelt thank you,