A career in leather

Peter Laight & Rachel Garwood at Careers Day
Peter Laight & Rachel Garwood at Careers Day

For the first time ever to my knowledge someone held a career day in leather last week. All through my career students have essentially slid into a life of leather through patronage or accident.  Peripheral people who might want to consider leather just did not exist.

But the new modern world of the Institute for Creative Leather Technology with an updated tannery and much better links to fashion, waste, management and podiatry seems to have changed all that. All parts of the supply chain are turning up looking for leather skills. Cow to consumer now makes real sense for the University of Northampton. And it means a determined effort to attract students into Northampton who do not have some previous connection to leather.  These are exciting times.

So the ICLT held its first ever Careers Day and had a bundle of old friends and alumni along talking to a packed house about the fun of working in leather and the opportunities that exist.  Companies like Clarks, ECCO, Scottish Leather Group, Stahl, TFL, LANXESS, UKLF and the Identity Store all had stands as well as spent time talking to students. As did designers like Anne Selby who does wonderful things with leather.  Some brands also turned up to quietly pass through the crowds and talk about career opportunities.

Our old tannery dogs are coming at an end

What is absolutely clear is that there are many opportunities for good leather scientists and it is a huge shame to see unemployed graduates on the one hand and a Leather School at Northampton that could train them and put nearly all onto really good career paths.  We all know that demographics means that many positions will be created in the next five years as boomers retire and we are short of Gen Y people to fill them. Yet it looks that the leather trade demographic shift will be later greater than many industries as with the tannery exit from the west starting in the 1970s we have managed much of our industry by keeping more of the old “tannery dogs” going with the help of very few young managers coming through. Mike Tomkins from Stahl indicated that their annual need was going to be a minimum of fifteen a year.

Leather worldwide is on a rebound these days. The University is planning really exciting new course introductions over the next few years that gets leather out of its historic silo and into the main stream value chain. Much closer cooperation with the School of Management and The School of the Arts will bring leather teaching to many more students and creative ideas of all sorts into leather.

But some old Tannery Dogs intend to stick around

The day was an outstanding success and everyone speaking and exhibiting said they would support it again next year. Yet not all the old “tannery dogs” are walking away yet. Dr. Peter Laight made it clear he still had another twenty years of charm and innovation to offer the leather trade!