Watchfinder leads charge towards apprentice scheme

Retailer Watchfinder is driving ahead a new proposed apprenticeship scheme to answer the shortage of watch service technicians in the UK.

Watchfinder’s head watchmaker Tony Williams is now working on establishing a draft framework for a three-year watch servicing apprenticeship that would result in NVQ qualification with his colleagues Trevor Pilkington and Nick Towndrow as well as Swiss Time Services and Swisstec owner, Tony Coe.

The action follows a meeting of 16 watch makers, servicing specialists and vocational educational professionals, at Phillips auction house on Berkeley Square in June. The meeting was chaired by Watchfinder’s servicing director Matt Bowling.

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The meeting was prompted by the government’s Trailblazer apprenticeship scheme, which encourages employers, rather than educational bodies, to set the standard for apprenticeships. If accepted as part of the Trailblazer scheme, companies taking on watch maker apprentices would receive government funding.

Dudley Giles, chief executive of the British Horological Institute, who was also present at the June meeting, had earlier championed the potential of the government’s Trailblazer scheme at a groundbreaking strategy conference of the British Watch & Clock Maker’s Guild held in Watford in March.

The apprenticeship syllabus will seek to developing watch service technicians with keen fault-finding and problem-solving abilities, rather than the ‘sequential’ approach taken by the more established WOSTEP training programmes. The training would focus on three-hand automatic and chronograph mechanical movements as well as reflecting the variety of quartz movements in the marketplace.

Watchfinder relies on watchmakers to service each and every watch it buys for resale. It currently employs eight full-time watchmakers and service technicians at its Kent service centre.

Watchmaker training in the UK almost died out following the closure of the three-year course at Hackney Technical College in 1997. Then the foundation of the British School of Watchmaking in 2006 offered six, then eight, annual places on its WOSTEP 3200 course at the industry-funded facility in Manchester. Birmingham City University’s world-renowned School of Jewellery went on to launch the world’s only horology degree course in 2012, which now takes on 14 students in each cohort. That makes for a total of 22 students in full-time horological education each year.

Countries where watch manufacturing still thrives as an industry have much more robust training infrastructure in place. In August, German watch manufacturer Glashutte Original accepted 26 new apprentices at its Alfred Helwig School of Watchmaking in Glashutte, where it is in the process of training 80 new watchmakers.

 

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