The Fashion Retail Academy has celebrated its 10th anniversary, but the industry needs more colleges to build its talent pool.

Aided by a few wise words from former Prime Minister Tony Blair and a sprinkling of stardust in the form of pop star Paloma Faith, the Fashion Retail Academy celebrated its 10th anniversary last week.

This was the fourth graduation I have attended at the FRA, the launch of which was spearheaded by Arcadia boss Sir Philip Green. As you would expect of a party toasting a decade of success, there was an added sparkle and sense of anticipation.

What remained unchanged, however, were the palpable levels of excitement among the graduates as they looked forward to taking their first career steps into one of the most challenging, fast-paced but ultimately fulfilling sectors in British industry.

What has also become the norm is both the quality of the graduates that pass through the FRA’s doors and the wide support from the sector, with well over 100 high street retailers now supporting the institution.

Students in employment

The success of any professional academy is measured by the volume of students that gain and maintain employment within the industry it serves. And the FRA’s numbers speak for themselves.

“The FRA estimates that it has contributed more than £98m of gross value add to the UK fashion retail sector”

Chris Brook-Carter

Over a 10-year period, the academy has trained more than 5,000 full-time students and well over 1,000 on short-term courses. Nearly 77% of all students are employed, while 13% are in higher or further education.

Moreover, the FRA estimates that it has contributed more than £98m of gross value add to the UK fashion retail sector.

The secret to the academy’s track record, as befits a college in the retail space, has been to put the needs of its customers first – in this case the retailers who go on to employ the graduates.

This is a truly employer-led college, with programmes designed by retailers for retailers and it has allowed the sector to take control of its future on the skills and expertise it needs.

In its brochure, the FRA’s chair Kim Longman talks about the uniqueness of the FRA’s model. Why though, given the success the college has enjoyed and the challenges the whole industry faces around skills and talent, has it remained such an isolated example?

Drive behind academy

It is hard to over-emphasise the importance of tycoon Green as both the visionary and driving force behind the academy. And any efforts to replicate his work will require a comparable level of force of will to cut through red tape and bring together the right level of investment.

However, retail is not lacking this kind of leadership. So whether it is another fashion academy, perhaps this time in the North of England, or a general retail academy to attract, inspire and train the next generation of leaders, the Arcadia boss has demonstrated brilliantly what could be achieved.

Last week’s Budget was a reminder of the increasing need to create value in the workforce as the costs of employment escalate. Surely the time is right to look at the model pioneered by Green and ask whether more can be done to enhance the sector’s future, taking control of its destiny and building its talent pool.