Where will the next potters come from?
THE ceramics industry is facing a chronic skills shortage that could threaten its future, according to company bosses.
That was the verdict of an industry summit held last week and attended by the Lord Mayor of the City of London.
Representatives from firms across the city met at the Potters Club, in Stoke, when the Lord Mayor visited the Potteries to discuss the future of the sector.
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He also visited Moorcroft Pottery, in Burslem, Middleport Pottery and Steelite International, also in Middleport.
Companies including Steelite, Wade Ceramics, Caverswall China and Endeka Ceramics pledged to work more closely together to tackle the skills shortage.
Etruria-based Wade's managing director Paul Farmer said: "We are struggling to find a talented pool of people with the traditional skills we need.
"Yes we are moving forward with technology but we have all got 50-something technical managers and nothing backing them up.
"There used to be a fantastic course at Staffordshire University for that but it isn't there anymore because of a lack of demand.
"It's incumbent on all of us in the industry to do something to work together and move forward."
Mr Farmer said he had recently met with the British Ceramic Confederation to discuss the possibility of setting up a skills academy.
Trevor Johnson, managing director of Caverswall China, in Fenton, said: "When I left school aged 16 I went to work for Crown Staffs China and there was a fantastic training board.
"The company used to employ 400 people and every year there would be 10 or 15 young girls and boys joining and supervisors employed to look after them.
"We just haven't got that anymore and I would like to see some support on skills."
Ian Dudson, picturedbelow, chairman of Tunstall tableware manufacturer Dudson, said he believed an element of complacency had crept in because job losses in the industry had left a number of skilled people available. But, he added, they were now getting older and as such the pool was shrinking.
Dr Astrid Herhoffer, dean of the Faculty of Arts, Media and Design at Staffordshire University, said more work needed to be done with schools to engage young people.
The university is currently running its Ceramic Design course at a loss because not enough students are applying.
Dr Herhoffer said: "At primary and secondary level the focus is on digital skills and working with computers – pupils don't get their hands dirty anymore.
"Unless we instil this element in schools again we won't get apprentices coming through and there will be a big gap coming.
"We haven't got the people who can step into the shoes of those who will be retiring in 10 or 15 years time.
"We have started a programme called Firing Up with the Crafts Council to take ceramics back into primary schools, but this is an initiative that needs to be supported.
"As a sector we need to work out how we can work together to grow interest in ceramics in children.
"We are keeping our ceramic design courses open because we see it as a duty to the region's heritage but we are running them at a loss.
"We have great facilities at the university but not enough students are coming through."
Kevin Oakes, chief executive of Middleport tableware manufacturer Steelite International, who chaired the discussion, said: "Certainly one of the issues we have is that graduates don't want to live in Stoke-on-Trent and they don't want to work in an industry they see as declining, so how do we tackle that?"
There was widespread support around the table for a suggestion from Stuart Adams, managing director of Endeka Ceramics, in Hanley, who said: "Each company could set up a training module in their particular specialism, and when put together they would add up to a ceramics qualification that any young person could be proud of."
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