UK upholstery and furniture manufacturing has been in a steady decline and DFS has seen a shortage of skilled upholsterers especially in the specific field of service upholstery.
In response to this emerging skills gap, DFS introduced a unique programme which will train a new generation of apprentices. Its Service Upholsterer Apprenticeship scheme, launched in partnership with Hull College, gives school leavers the opportunity to earn while they learn traditional upholstery and vital customer service skills.
DFS’ first group of 11 apprentices are now six months in to the two year course.
On top of owning three upholstery factories in the UK, the British sofa retailer and manufacturer currently employs over 190 Service Upholsterers across its UK-based stores and warehouses, but with 25 due to retire in the next five years and a skills gap amongst school leavers, the scheme aims to guarantee the next generation.
Two girls and nine boys, aged 18-22, will be trained across the country in the role of Service Upholstery. A Service Upholsterer visits customers’ homes to assess and service the sofa over the lifetime of the guarantee.
DFS’ Service Upholsterer Apprentices are trained on block release from Hull College over two years and will receive a City & Guilds Level 2 Diploma in Upholstery & Soft Furnishings. T
he programme will see each apprentice train in fabric upholstery and leather repair work, and learn how to re-cover sofas, fit parts, replace mechanisms, repair frames and springs. While on the course, trainees gain practical experience at their local DFS store, workshop and factory as well as gain valuable customer service skills on visits to customers’ homes.
Each apprentice attends college for 13 weeks over the course of the two years and completes the Duke of Edinburgh Business Gold Award as part of their qualification to help build confidence and life skills. In addition, each is given a personal mentor to guide them through the programme.
Louise Anderson, who is 18 years old from Leicester and one of two women on the scheme, says: “When it came to applying for university, I just wasn’t as enthused as my friends about the idea. I realised that a university degree doesn’t automatically guarantee you a job so I decided to explore other options.
“I’m a creative person and love spending time with different people so the DFS Service Upholsterer Apprenticeship scheme really appealed to me. I’m meeting people, earning money and gaining a qualification, all at the same time.
“The job is also really varied – one day I’m visiting people in their home to fix sofa arms. The next, I’m learning how to stitch, and another I’m working in the factory. All the interaction with customers has helped grow my confidence too. I’ve also learnt a lot about upholstering, I had no idea what the industry involved prior to joining the scheme and it’s opened up a whole new world I previously knew nothing about!”
Paul Freeman, head of Service Upholstery at DFS, said: “More and more retailers are manufacturing their product overseas which means young people aren’t getting the chance to develop traditional upholstery skills – it really feels as though it’s a dying trade. At DFS, we pride ourselves on offering an end to end service.
“We have three UK-based upholstery factories where we make many of the fabric sofas on sale in our stores. We also look after the delivery service and the aftercare – hence the requirement for service upholsterers.
“When we discovered that no college was actively teaching a diploma in furniture, soft furnishings and interiors, we teamed up with Hull College to develop an upholstery apprenticeship scheme that’s unique to us. We hope it will inspire a younger generation to pursue a career in upholstery so we can retain this traditional skill right here in the UK.”