Marks & Spencer Fashion & Textile Apprentice Case Study
Natalie Hurst-Knight – Level 3 Fashion & Textile Apprentice in garment technology
Jenny Holloway – Chief Executive, Fashion Enter
Fliss Biggs – HR Businees Partner, Marks & Spencer
As one of the first apprentices on the new Level 3 Fashion and Textile apprenticeships at Marks & Spencer, Natalie Hurst-Knight, 22, is clearly a young woman who believes you can achieve your dream job if you put in the work.
Natalie, from Catford, London, always wanted a career in fashion but a lack of careers advice at College, combined with wanting to give back to the community, led her to embarking on a nursing degree aged twenty. “From day one of the nursing degree, I knew it wasn’t the right thing for me,” said Natalie. “I stuck it out for two years but held onto my dream to work in the fashion industry.”
Natalie began to research opportunities within the fashion industry. “I originally thought about being a designer but, as I did my research, I became more interested in the production side of the industry,” said Natalie. This led Natalie to doing a garment construction course but she continued to seek other opportunities to fulfil her ambition. “A lot of the courses directed you to University but because I’d had the experience of going to University and knowing it wasn’t right for me, it gave me the extra push to do my own thing and find out what I wanted.”
In October 2013, Natalie discovered that Fashion Enter, a leading training provider in Fashion and Textile apprenticeships based in Haringey, London, helped with apprenticeships. “I spoke to Jenni Sutton at Fashion Enter who contacted me regarding apprenticeships and she mentioned the Marks & Spencer’s apprenticeship,” said Natalie. “I really wanted it as it was so hands-on and it was exactly what I’d been looking for.” It co-incided with Natalie finding the Creative Skillset website which also highlighting Marks & Spencer’s apprenticeships.
Fliss Biggs, HR Business Partner at Marks & Spencer, is in no doubt of the need to invest in apprenticeships to ensure they continue their outstanding reputation. “Maintaining our leadership position in garment quality and innovation is of upmost importance to M&S.,” said Fliss. “To deliver this now and in the future we recognised the need to build a new talent pipeline for garment technology. Fashion Enter gave excellent support and advice in setting the programme up. They invested time in understanding what M&S looks for in future talent and the type of people who thrive in our business so that they could shortlist the best candidates. This was a huge help given that that we had over 500 applications.”
Natalie recalls that it was a three stage process starting with an interview with Fashion Enter and then advice and guidance from Fashion Enter on what to expect from a career and how to prepare for the interview.
“At the third stage, Marks & Spencer wanted a ten minute presentation called ‘M&S and You’. I reseached the company profile, its history and what they wanted from the role,” said Natalie. “I then had a one-to-one interview with a garment technologist. It was a great interview process and gave me an insight into the business and how they operated.”
Natalie’s hard work and determination paid off and she was selected as one of nine young apprentices to begin the first Fashion & Textiles apprenticeship scheme with Marks & Spencer in January 2014. Natalie’s apprenticeship is in Womenswear as an apprentice garment technologist working on the Marks & Spencer Collection.
“At the interview, I asked what a typical day was like at Marks & Spencer and was told there is no typical day and I’ve discovered that is so true,” said Natalie. “In one day I could be working with a live model or dealing with customer queries or looking into return to manufacturer issues. It’s part of our role to ensure that everything is to the highest quality. I didn’t even know that a garment technologist role existed before this.”
Jenny Holloway, Chief Executive of Fashion Enter, who has passionately advocated apprenticeships in Fashion & Textiles, is clear that all parties working as a team is vital to the success of the scheme. “Working with Marks & Spencer to recruit and progress applicants for the nine places for the Level 3 apprenticeship programme was really rewarding,” said Jenny. “From day one there was a clear brief of expectations from Marks & Spencer, a specified needs analysis. The entire process was fun and professionally organised. Apprenticeship programmes success really depends on talent matching and Marks & Spencer were very clear on this from the first initial conversation. It’s a great partnership and long may it continue.”
Fliss said, “All of the apprentices have made a great start and have impressed us with their passion for clothing and enthusiasm for learning. We’re looking forward to seeing them develop over the course of their apprenticeship and hope this will be the start of a very successful career.”
For Natalie, hard work, determination and belief in herself have certainly paid off and she would encourage other young people to consider apprenticeships. “An apprenticeship is for anyone who wants an alternative to University. I have friends who left University two years ago and are still looking for work,” said Natalie. “You have to be willing to work hard, do your learning but it is predominantly your job. If you are not ready to go out and do full time work then reconsider.”
Natalie’s passion for the apprenticeship shines through. “Every day is exciting and challenging,” said Natalie. “I’ve found a career path that suits my learning style and from which I can build my future career.”