For many, the dream of making it big in California’s fashion industry quickly turns into harsh reality. An overcrowded marketplace and a surplus of designers and able-bodied workers afford few tangible job prospects as hundreds battle for a single position.
The harsh business reality of fashion is something that Frances Harder knows all too well. As president and founder of the Fashion Business Inc (FBI), a free, non-profit, Los Angeles-based organization that helps design entrepreneurs start and grow sustainable fashion businesses, Harder has seen the changes in the local fashion industry first hand, and is doing something about it.
“Los Angeles is an important part of the international fashion business, and it has been difficult to see so many people here lose jobs because they don’t have the necessary skill set to establish a career,” said Harder . “If employers are only able to keep one person, they will choose the one with the most training, including crucial technology training, which many boomers don’t have.”
Harder decided to do something for this demographic and those workers who have been laid off, in hopes of getting people back to work and re-energized about the local fashion industry. With her team at the FBI and an apparel industry company AIMS Technology Solutions, a program was created that would train displaced fashion workers in basic computer skills and fashion industry specific computer software training and certification.
In 2009, Harder received funding from Microsoft, a perfect partnership for her technology-based program. The program stipulated that participants must have basic computer literacy, as well as a dedication to learning and successfully completing the program.
After being bombarded by more than 140 applications, the FBI enrolled 35 participants into the inaugural class. During the eight-week Apparel Job Skills Training Program, the individuals were taught classes in three specific areas: Basic Computer Skills Training, Apparel Information Management Systems (AIMS) Training and Certification and PAD Training (a CAD system that interfaces with Excel). Two tracks were offered: one for gaining operations-based expertise and the other for building pattern-making skills.
“The shift in the apparel industry has put a lot of people out of work as organizations transition from factory-style to office-style environments,” said Shahin Kohan, Owner of AIMS Technology Solutions and Director at FBI. “In order to get a job in this new style of industry, people need to be trained in technology, like our AIMS product and the Office Suite made by our partner Microsoft. The curriculum we created for the FBI was pivotal in securing the next phase of employment for participants.”
The program’s curriculum included Microsoft Word, Outlook and Excel, all themed toward their functions within the apparel industry. Additional classes focused on Intro to PAD and Excel- basic computer skills, Intuit QuickBooks and AIMS Training and Certification. In addition to providing exposure to basic computer programs and skills sets, these classes trained the participants in apparel-focused technology that will be essential in their careers.
“Technology is increasingly becoming a key part of design and apparel careers and we were excited to be such an active partner in this program,” said T yler Bryson, SouthWest District, Enterprise & Partners Group at Microsoft. “These specialized technology classes have prepared the participants to use the growing number of computer-aided technologies in the manufacturing sector, allowing them to become more valuable and marketable employees.”
After completing the program, the FBI refered clients for job placement to 24/7 and L. A. County WorkSorce Center, both of which maintain a database of garment industry employers seeking skilled employees.
“Our goal is to educate and empower a new workforce for the new economy,” Harder said. “The 29 students who graduated from the program now have the ability to find competitive, skill-based jobs in the fashion industry and beyond.”
Harder hopes to continue this program with a new group of unemployed workers and sees the lasting economic benefit of courses like the Apparel Job Skills Training Program.
“There are a lot of people hurting in the marketplace and this program is helping them to be more successful,” said Laura Saterbak, a program graduate, now employed. “The technology skills I gained during this program not only got me a full-time job, but are helping me to be a better manager by training others.”
According to Harder , enabling a highly-skilled workforce will allow businesses to create sustaining jobs to keep the economy moving. “In order for California and U.S.-based fashion companies to remain competitive in the apparel industry, employees need to be taught technical skills to compete in the international arena. Owners of apparel manufacturing business will also need to understand their roll in embracing new sustainable methods of efficient production as this will be an essential part of the future survival of this large, important industry.”