In this report our Editor, Lydia Hanson, comments on a recent visit WhichPLM made to Manchester Metropolitan University and on the calibre of graduates today. Mark Harrop delivered an exciting pitch on emerging trends and technologies, to some 150+ final year students.
Loyal readers will note that WhichPLM has been expanding our educational arm for years now. With the launch of WhichPLM Academy in 2014, we reached a broader spectrum of industry types than ever before. We then went on to deliver lectures and participate in PLM-specific events at universities across the country, imparting hands-on industry knowledge from decades of experience.
In late-February we returned to Manchester Metropolitan University – situated proudly in WhichPLM’s home city – to continue this thought leadership.
MMU (as it is globally known) has a renowned Apparel Department, offering students worldwide ample choice when it comes to selecting a particular course.
Most courses are taught in the recently refurbished Hollings building – a multi-million pound structure filled with state of the art apparatus. The department uses modern cutting machines, the Gerber AccuMark solution, 3D design solutions and even 3D printers.
With a range of technologies at their fingertips, students on the Fashion courses aren’t behind the times. For this year’s visit, we were pitching to more than 150 final year students on the Fashion Buying & Merchandising course. As anyone who’s undertaken a degree will tell you – it all comes down to your final year. The last year is the culmination of everything you’ve learnt thus far and, as far as I remember it, the definition of hard work.
Students graduating Fashion Buying & Merchandising in the summer of this year should be able to display a strategic approach to the evaluation of international fashion markets, organisations, and consumer in both manufacturing and retail environments. They should be ready to embark on a successful career within the industry, armed with the necessary skills and expertise to get them passed interview level.
Previous graduates of this course have gone on to a wide range of careers with companies including River Island, Next, Dolce & Gabbana, Abercrombie & Fitch, Reebok, ASOS and others throughout the nation and abroad.
With students set to enter the industry in a matter of months, the focus in this lecture was particularly high. In only a short time, we had a lot of ground to cover.
Mark Harrop delivered our thought leadership presentation in his usual confident (but by no means arrogant) and thorough manner. This wasn’t his first time at the rodeo. As a frequent presenter and speaker, many of our readers would recognize Mark’s style anywhere. And this was no exception – gesticular and energetic as ever.
The lecture spanned three major topics.
The first to be covered was PLM, and as someone who’s helped to build a global industry since PLM’s inception back in the late 1980’s (PDM/CPM/PLM), not to mention build a company on the topic, Mark delivered this portion of the pitch as concisely as possible. We all know that PLM cannot be understood fully in 60 minutes, but the foundations can certainly be explored. Mark shared WhichPLM’s thoughts on PLM as it is today – how we work in a modern business, including the relationship between PLM, E-PLM and ERP – and how it might look in the future, exploring new processes, their challenges and benefits. Which leads us to topic number two: the Internet of Things.
The IoT (as it’s better known) is something that we – along with many others within the industry – have been interested in for a while. The IoT is essentially a network of systems, solutions, applications, and real objects working together. All of these ‘things’ combine to create an unrivalled source of data and information, which can then be used in a multitude of ways. It’s the ultimate business and consumer engagement.
The IoT is a way of joining everything together. It’s a revolution. And as Mark so aptly put it, “every single person in this room is already in the ‘Internet of Things.’” As it’s a relatively new buzzword for professionals in this industry – some of whom are still struggling with what it can really mean to the RFA sector – it’s likely that this was the first these students were hearing of the IoT. And the rapid note-taking supports this theory.
From the Q&A at the end of the session (which I’ll cover more very shortly) it was obvious that this topic was of real interest to the students, and something they had grasped well. This conversation ignited a spark in some of them, and it’s humbling to know that they will graduate with at least a primary understanding of something that many industry professionals do not yet comprehend.
Think for a minute of how many new employees in your business are in the 20-25 age bracket? And how many of these employees had knowledge of the IoT, of 3D, of PLM even, before they set foot in your interview room?
Soon, the answer will be the vast majority.
This brings me nicely to the third topic covered at MMU: 3D. With most students already vaguely aware of 3D within the RFA industry, Mark emphasised it’s effect on a variety of different use cases. He covered virtual prototyping, 3D printed garment sampling for use in testing and photo shoots, 3D designed and developed components, 3D collaboration with the entire supply chain, and 3D’s positive effects on the environment and sustainability (the elimination of transporting real samples across the globe for example).
Looking forward, Mark concluded with suggestions on what the students might see in the coming years within RFA. Namely IoT, and the rapid advancement of technology. Technology is evolving (which should come as no surprise to you, our readers, as we’ve been commenting on this since our inception), and the IoT is already all around us. Many of us use it daily – be it for healthcare, fashion, or home security – via body monitors like the Fitbit, or remote systems like Hive.
The difference between when we pitched to students last year and this week shows just how rapidly the industry is evolving. And that isn’t to say we did a half-baked job twelve months ago. We presented the past, present and future of PLM for apparel, and within a year, that ‘future’ we discussed has become our ‘present’. And then some.
Twelve to eighteen months ago the IoT was just a buzz word. Even now, it’s still in its infancy in terms of RFA business knowledge and up-take; IoT in 2016 is the toddler of what it will be in 2020 and beyond. Think of the beginning of offshoring, of PDM, of the Internet. Skeptics and laggards, be warned.
The future of our industry is unconfirmed in terms of specifics; sure, we can estimate trends, but we don’t know for sure. But by no means is the future uncertain. It isn’t slowing down; it isn’t in jeopardy of disappearing. Technological advancements are snowballing, and you can either jump out of the way, or jump right in. I know which I’ll choose.
And I’m pretty sure I know which the younger generation will choose. This next generation are feisty, hungry, and completely at home with mobile devices that go far beyond what we ‘need’ from them. Humans are creatures of habit, and undergraduates and graduates work with the latest technology out of habit. It’s what they’re used to. It’s what they breathe.
We live in a digital age.
And with the digital and the creative merging, the way in which retailers and brands work is changing.
“Will this kind of thing eventually mean people will be out of jobs? If technology is effectively doing the work for us,” asked one student. A perfectly legitimate question for someone wary that her future career might soon be deemed irrelevant. Of course we needn’t worry, confirmed Mark. People are still the ones building the technology; people are building algorithms; people are still the key. Sure, some jobs may have to adapt to become more ‘techie,’ but the future is safe. And it’s exciting.
Speaking as someone who loves her Withings security system and her Jawbone tracker (and her red wine, but that’s off topic), I can’t wait to see the near future of the fashion industry – the future of the new bricks and mortar stores. And others share in that enthusiasm.
Lucy Zorab, third year student on the course, shared with us some thoughts post-lecture, “I had very little understanding of the software before your talk, as on my placement yeah the company I worked for were still using Excel” – something we hear all too often, Lucy. She continued, “It was really great to hear someone talk with such passion about an incredibly exciting movement within the fashion industry. It really captivated me! I’ll be sure to keep up with WhichPLM – you’ve helped me to get excited about the future of the industry I hope to work in.”
It’s fantastic to know that we are helping to drive that enthusiasm in the marketplace. The majority of what made Mark’s speech so rich was his past experience. The students were able to gain a realistic view of the industry – one that can only be gleaned from true hands-on experience, not learned from books. And this is something that MMU is really passionate about. They really drive home the importance of industry experience, and the Department of Apparel has a superb roster of industry lecturers.
And indeed, the University is constantly moving forward. Program leader for the Fashion Buying & Merchandising Course, Maria Malone, shared her enthusiasm with us for their newest course.
“What Mark explored today is a perfect example of what we will be delivering on this new course,” she said. The course is Fashion Business & Management, and aims to provide a fresh and innovative approach to developing future fashion management professionals that have the knowledge and flexibility to lead contemporary fashion firms. Accredited by the Chartered Management Institute, this degree will develop students’ skills as forward thinking fashion management professionals.
There is a drive for companies to take a more holistic approach to fashion business, putting customer expectations at the heart of the organisation, and this course recognizes that. Graduates will be able to enter a range of roles and functions including Marketing, International Brand Management, Digital Enterprise, Multichannel Management, Buying, Merchandising, Logistics and Supply Chain, Retail Management, Project Management and Strategic Management.
What’s more, graduates will fly into the industry armed with an understanding of modern PLM, 3D and the Internet of Things.