Upholstery and Soft Furnishings (Wales)

Framework status: Current (latest) issue

Framework details

Framework ID: FR02877
Issue number: 1
Issued: 22 January 2015

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Upholstery and Soft Furnishings (Wales)
(PDF document 5.13 MB)

Issued by

Contact name: Lisa Williamson
Telephone number: 01235 432030
Please download the framework for email contact information.


The Upholstery and Soft Furnishing industry is of significant importance to the UK economy, particularly in the supply of end products for residential and commercial living and work places. Sales in the sector have improved steadily since 2011 to reach an estimated value of £2.26bn at MSP in 2013.

The Upholstery and Soft Furnishing industry are traditionally segmented into three main sectors which cover:

  • Traditional Upholstery
  • Modern Upholstery
  • Soft Furnishings (including Curtain Making)

Proskills estimates that the total size of the Upholstery and Soft Furnishing Manufacturing sector in the UK is There are around 20,000 Upholsterers in the UK, with around another 10,000 people in support and management roles in the industry. The upholstered furniture and beds market has moved in a volatile pattern in recent years. Following years of slow growth there was a modest upturn in 2010, though this was followed by a further decline in 2011. However, sales have improved steadily since then to reach an estimated value of £2.26bn at MSP in 2013. Around 80% of manufacturers in the sector are micro companies operating with less than 10 employees. Around 90% of the companies in the industry employ fewer than 50 people.

Although there is likely to be a drop in the overall size of the Welsh workforce in the sector during the coming decade, industries in Wales will still require additional workers in this period. There is predicted to be a fall in lower level occupations but a rise in the demand for higher level skills due to a) continuing automation of processes requires more highly skilled workers and b) ongoing requirements for craft and bespoke skills at a higher level. This pattern matches the general patterns identified across Wales in the National Strategic Skills Audit published by the Welsh Government in February 2013.

The production of Upholstery and Soft Furnishings has traditionally been a skilled craft and, although becoming increasingly automated, the Upholstery and Soft Furnishing industry still classes around a third of its workforce as being “skilled trades”. Plant/Process Machine Operatives are also prominent, accounting for around a fifth of the total workforce, although the proportion of these roles is expected to decline over the coming decade. The proportion of managers of managers in the workforce is currently around the same level as operatives, but is expected to grow over the next ten years.

Data from the Labour Force Survey shows that 88% of the Furniture industry workforce is full time and 71% are male. Many companies report issues with skills gaps with skills shortages particularly prevalent amongst front line staff, technical staff and at managerial and supervisory level. These skills gaps have a significant impact on company profitability.

As well as increasing operating costs, skills gap issues in the Upholstery and Soft Furnishing industry also increase the workload for other staff and create difficulties in meeting required quality standards. Around a fifth of companies believe that the skills gaps they are experiencing are due to a lack of training. Over half of employers with identified skills gaps are currently increasing their training activity to address these problems.

There are a number of challenges currently facing the industry and one of these is that commercial and domestic consumers have constantly changing demands and preferences and they expect very high standards in the furnishing of their living and workplace environments.

The industry relies heavily on the skills within its workforce to meet the highest of quality standards. It is vital to ensure the presence of appropriate training for the industry to help them prepare their employees for the future and to maintain and improve their productivity, competitiveness and sustainability. Only by doing this can the required high standards be achieved and maintained.

The industry also needs to improve efficiencies by tightening up processes to tackle the issue of rising energy costs and the need for more energy efficient machinery and processes. Legislative compliance on Health & Safety and Environmental Management also present challenges and place legal responsibilities upon the industry. Global competition has had an impact on manufacturing industries and the need for raising skill levels across the whole sector will be necessary to maintain and improve productivity and competitiveness. Low carbon and sustainability will also continue to be key drivers in terms of process and product improvement, renewable and recyclable materials and end-of-life procedures.

The recent recession has had a major impact on companies in the sector, and despite an upturn in the macroeconomic environment, markets have still not returned to 2008 levels. A major threat to growth in both the upholstery and beds sectors concerns the high level of imports, often from low-cost countries and price competition among the multiple retailers

Other factors that will affect the sector over the next five years include competition, advancing technology, and changing working practices. These are all factors that companies in Wales have identified will have a significant impact on their businesses over the coming years.

It will be vital to ensure the presence of appropriate training for the industry to help them prepare their employees for the future and continue to improve productivity and competitiveness. Proskills will continue to work with employers across Wales to ensure that the right skills platform is in place and the right framework exists to support skills investment.

The Upholstery and Soft Furnishing industry is currently not attracting, in sufficient numbers, applicants from males, black and minority ethnic groups or those with a difficulty or disability. The industry recognises that it is not making the most of the pool of talent that is available – this is untapped talent which could help to meet their skills gaps and shortages, thereby contributing to increased productivity and competitiveness. Another key challenge for the Upholstery and Soft Furnishing Furniture industry is that the current workforce is ageing, with a particular shortfall of employees aged 16-24.

The Level 2 Foundation and Level 3 Apprenticeships for Upholstery & Soft Furnishings have been designed to help fill skills gaps and shortages which are caused by an ageing workforce, by attracting younger people into the industry and providing them with the skills, knowledge and experience which employers are seeking to recruit and retain. In addition, the framework provides a progression route which will help to upskill the existing workforce to meet future economical, environmental and technological changes within the industry.

The Upholstery and Soft Furnishing industries have a long tradition of skills development and Apprenticeships, from the traditional work of the craft guilds and livery companies, through to the modern integration of high technology and hand skills.

This Apprenticeship framework provides a suitable structure that will ensure that training and assessment is carried out systematically and meets with the requirements of both the employer and the Apprentice. It may also, where appropriate, provide positive progression from a Foundation Level 2 Apprenticeship to a Level 3 Apprenticeship or to higher-level work within the industry.

The component parts of this framework will help meet the current and future needs of the industry: essentially a sound understanding of the complexities of manufacturing processes, underpinned by the appropriate skills, competencies and principles.

Apprenticeships in the Upholstery and Soft Furnishing Industry provide and nurture an environment in which individuals are able to develop a host of skills and personal attributes – all of which will contribute to the success of the industry and to the wider UK economy.

This Apprenticeship framework can help offer solutions to the current and future economical, environmental and technological challenges highlighted above and will help to create stability in the demography of the industry. Apprenticeships will help fill the current skills gaps and shortages and provide a sound preparation to help fill more senior positions in the near future.

The proposed framework offers not just young people, but also older workers the opportunity to upskill and undertake continual professional development as they progress in their careers. Training alone will not deliver the learning required by the current workforce and timely succession planning, for workforce development and replacement, is necessary. Apprenticeships will form a vital component of any succession planning action plan.

The training and assessment described by this Apprenticeship framework are acknowledged as a mechanism to help provide a workforce that is able to take forward innovation and change and to help industries to drive business performance improvements to increase national and global competitiveness.

For more information about the Upholstery and Soft Furnishing Industry, please visit http://www.upholsterers.co.uk/.

Download framework

Upholstery and Soft Furnishings (Wales)
(PDF document 5.13 MB)