The BFM is part of a European Partner project, IM-Futures, the aim of which is to develop the content for an International Masters’ Degree in the furniture sector.

The furniture industry is a substantial sector across Europe, with total consumer expenditure in the UK on furniture and furnishings in 2016 being £16.7b, supporting 327,000 jobs across 50,000 registered companies.

Three in five UK firms say that the skills shortage worsened in the last year and more than half expect the situation to further deteriorate, according to recent research from the Open University. It found that 53% of UK businesses expect problems with recruitment to deepen in the next 12 months as the country leaves the EU, and with this alongside the latest quarterly labour market outlook from the CIPD showing that skills shortages are accelerating, the IM-Futures project seeks to fill this gap in order to recreate a new generation of manufacturers, and expanding the knowledge of current workers in the furniture industry across Europe.

The change that needs to generate these new skills comes through education, says the BFM. From extensive research co-ordinated by the association and the other partners in this project, it was found that most universities only offer design degrees that relate to furniture, and that there isn’t a single Masters degree for this sector across the UK and much of Europe. If workers become more skilled with the relevant training, labour productivity can increase, meaning more open doors for labourers and a wider workforce for employees. While we are about to be faced with an even more limited skills pool, the industry is going to need managers with skills such as production engineering.

Along with partners from Poland, Spain, Italy and the UK, IM-Futures is focused fundamentally on developing training covering enabling technologies, production engineering, scheduling and planning as well as product innovation and process improvement systems. The degree will also offer options for specialisation, including modules covering operations management, design, materials and logistics.

The choice of the training modules followed detailed desk research in each country and feedback from key stakeholders. The content has been developed by partners according to their expertise and uploaded into a learning platform, enabling not only bachelor’s students, but also those who are already in work to expand their knowledge and skills, and enabling employees to train their staff to the highest available qualification in the industry.

Mike Dimond, BFM representative for IM-Futures, says: "Our research identified this major gap in training in the furniture sector, much of which is currently directed at design and this is a common theme across the EU. By developing the Masters’ Degree, we will plug that gap and give mangers the necessary training to move their businesses forward."

IM-Futures is now entering its final stage before online publication which is to test the platform internally and externally and make any adjustments based on critical feedback. Training events will be held in each partner country in April 2019. Any parties interested in taking advantage of the upcoming pilot course should contact the BFM.