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Fashion Industry Leaders on Upskilling Opportunities in the Workplace

BoF spoke to HR executives and talent experts at Alexander McQueen, On and Deckers Brands — global employers currently recruiting on BoF Careers — to understand what skills are most relevant to the fashion industry and how to upskill in them in the workplace.
A collaborative work setting with four individuals gathered around a table, each with a laptop or an open notebook. In the background, a chalkboard displays written text and sticky notes, suggesting ongoing project discussions or brainstorming sessions.
Upskilling offers tangible rewards to the employee. In the US, workers gained an additional 8.6 percent in annual income after participating in upskilling programmes as of June 2021, according to Gallup. (Pexels)
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Learning new skills throughout your career is critical for professional progression and to stay on top of a fast-moving, highly competitive workplace like fashion.

Post-pandemic, the workplace continues to evolve drastically, driven by rapid technological innovations and cultural workplace shifts, with virtual or hybrid working the new norm. As a result, upskilling is increasingly expected by the vast majority of employers — between 2018 and 2020, business leaders reporting that they expect employees to pick up new skills on the job rose from 65 percent to 94 percent, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).

With this expectation, many businesses are bolstering their learning and development (L&D) offering. The WEF reported that companies are likely to provide reskilling and upskilling opportunities to 73 percent of their staff in the lead up to 2025. This kind of L&D could look at providing training for hard skills required for the job at hand, such as utilising artificial intelligence (AI) tools or new software programmes; it might also focus on soft skills, like optimising communication in a virtual work environment or managing a team working across various locations and timezones.

However, the desire for upskilling opportunities is also being driven by employees themselves, who are eager to stay up-to-date or advance their abilities — simply, to ensure they remain employable and engaged in their work. This appetite for learning is only set to increase as the next generation enter the workforce — early career network and management platform Handshake reports that 87 percent of undergraduates say L&D benefits are either important or essential when evaluating a job opportunity.

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What’s more, upskilling offers tangible rewards to the employee. In the US, workers gained an additional 8.6 percent in annual income after participating in upskilling programmes as of June 2021, according to global analytics and advisory firm Gallup. This translates to an average of an additional $8,000 a year.

Now, BoF shares advice from HR executives and talent experts at Alexander McQueen, On and Deckers Brands about the skills they perceive most critical to success in the wider fashion industry, the value of upskilling, as well as an insight into the opportunities they offer to upskill within their respective companies.

Luisa Cicchetti, Chief People Officer at Alexander McQueen

What skill sets are critical for success in fashion today?

Transversal skill sets are becoming more important and critical to employees. Three soft skills that come to my mind are, firstly, the capability to be adaptable and flexible — the fashion industry has changed a lot and will continue changing. Adaptability is becoming more important for every employee at every level of the organisation, to really understand and move with the change.

Then, of course, communication skills are critical at every level of the organisation. I remember when I started, it was something that was only really requested for senior team members. Today, it’s critical across the business, from a client advisor to CEO.

The [third] transversal skill is the ability to remain curious throughout the journey. We are talking about self-development more and more, which really starts from the curiosity all of us need to have. It needs to be kept throughout the journey no matter the level of seniority.

Why is upskilling important in the workplace today?

The business landscape is constantly evolving — consumer trends, technology, but also the environment. The ways of working have changed massively in the last three or four years. That’s why we need to continue upskilling ourselves, to expand our knowledge to help us as an organisation and within the organisation — to unlock new ideas and to develop the ability to tackle new challenges that we really are facing on a daily basis.

How does Alexander McQueen nurture employees’ learning and development?

Everything for us starts with a proper performance review, where everyone at every level of the organisation, at least once or twice per year, has the opportunity to sit with their manager to discuss their performance and what they need to perform better in the next year ahead. We have an e-learning platform called The Grid that is open to everyone in the organisation and has more than 1000 courses on different topics. These are not only linked to your personal role [...] but they also link to and are useful for your personal development.

Then we have other group training courses like mentoring or other more specific programmes, such as for women’s leadership. We also do Lunch and Learns each month, which are moments held by senior management to share with younger employees their own experience and career path, to offer concrete examples of how you can develop and grow within the industry.

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Last year, the group launched a special initiative called the Global Learning Day. We recently hosted the second edition in McQueen and in all the other brands. It’s two full days, fully dedicated to learning where people all across the group had the opportunity to participate in workshops managed by the group, but we also had our own specific agenda as a brand. And we also had some specific initiatives at a local level.

Noa Perry-Reifer, Chief People Officer at On

What skill sets are critical for success in fashion today?

The first one, I think, is around resiliency and the ability to deal with change. These days, it’s critical to work with people on how they can become more resilient, especially when [workplace] changes occur so frequently. So the ability to embrace change and try to learn from challenges and mistakes along the way is critical.

What I see at On is those who enter into or develop that growth mindset and build that level of resilience are those that actually have the best experience and flourish in their careers.

[Another skill set] which is valuable in this space is leadership — it’s important to clarify here that I don’t mean management. I mean real leadership. It’s not the title or even the role that you get, but actually what you create out of it. So it’s the ability to provide a clear and inspiring vision and strategy, support your people along their growth journey, and it’s about putting the company and the team first before yourself.

How does On nurture employee learning and development within teams?

There are various methods that we use for learning and development because we know people learn and develop differently. But one [approach] that spans across everyone is the need for continuous feedback — there is no way to grow and develop as an individual if you don’t give and receive feedback. This is why, as an organisation, we prioritise it so much.

We believe that, in many cases, learning should not be outsourced but should be owned by our own talent. [...] We believe that it is their responsibility to share their learnings with others and we also see that people really enjoy that and also learn from each other.

Movement across the organisation is [also] essential in order to not build silos that big companies have between regions and between functions. So we invest a lot into people moving between functions or people moving between regions.

What wider initiatives does On offer for upskilling in the workplace?

When we think about learning and development, we try to look at individuals holistically beyond the actual professional environment. These days, things are far more blended — it’s very difficult to separate the work and the personal. This is why we developed the framework called Build the Better You, [which] has the ambition to cover all aspects of an individual — so we look at the mind, the body and purpose.

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To give you an example, every person, no matter their level, can have an external coach if they decide they want [one]. They can use the coach for something personal if this is what they choose to do, because we believe that development and growth will only come if you think about all the different aspects holistically.

Kelsa Albert, Senior Learning Experience Manager at Deckers Brands

What skill sets are critical for success in fashion today?

A lot of people will focus on the technical skills and, if they study something, they will focus on the skills to do that job. What should be considered much more is leadership skills, communication skills, presentation skills, networking — the more behavioural side of things.

Certainly, [fashion] is a small industry, particularly in the UK. You work for one fashion house or retailer and you move to another and there’s always people that are connected to other people. So it’s important to think about the networking skills as well as making contacts in the industry.

Why is upskilling important in the workplace today?

Things are moving quickly in terms of technology and research around that — it’s important that people continue to evolve. [...] The skills that you needed for a job two or three years ago, they’ll be different to what you need now. So I think that constant on-the-job learning is really important.

There’s also a bit of a gap at the moment because formal education is becoming so expensive in the UK — and probably globally — so there’s a real opportunity to upskill in the workplace as well, with things like apprenticeships and even senior leader apprenticeships, which is [something] we are trying to do at Deckers.

What opportunities does Deckers Brands offer for upskilling in the workplace?

We have lots of the stuff that you might expect: Microsoft training every month; “Presenting with Impact” that anyone can join every month as well — there’s this regular drum beat of opportunities for people. We also have more structured programmes, like Trailblazers, which is a programme for new leaders. We think that focusing on that middle management talent helps all teams reporting into the business generally.

Something [else] we have trialled over the last year is a shadow board programme called Pathfinders. So we get early talent on the programme, working on some projects and then feeding back to the exec team, so the exec team can keep their ear close to the ground. It is an amazing opportunity for development and exposure.

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