The textile dyeing industry risks compromising on quality due to growing skills shortage and it is imperative to bring chemistry back into the dye house and make efforts to train and recruit talent that has a good foundation in the science behind the colouration of fabric.

In recent years, more and more industry representatives have been voicing their concerns to the Society of Dyers and Colourists (SDC) about a widening skills gap. Hearsay and anecdotes were not enough so in December 2020 we carried out an in-depth study amongst our members and network globally to quantify the extent of the issue.

What we found, although shocking, was by no means a surprise. Over three quarters (77 per cent) of respondents agreed that there is a serious lack of scientific knowledge in the textile colouration industry – evidencing that theoretical training is not high on the agenda for many employers, who perhaps prefer to train in-house on specific tasks.

However, this means that those entering the industry are only learning processes by rote, rather than having a wider knowledge of the chemistry that underpins them – resulting in a widening skills crisis that will bring the sector to its knees if not addressed.

This urgent situation is global, with industry stakeholders internationally finding that they have the same issue – and quality of product starting to become compromised as a result.

How can lack of scientific knowledge affect quality?

Any dyeing technician can carry out a process that is learned parrot fashion, and likely to come out with an end product that is the same as all those that have come before it.

However, without a true understanding of what is happening in the dyeing vessel, technicians are unable to innovate new processes and adopt emerging technologies – therefore losing a competitive edge and risking being left behind with ageing techniques.

Furthermore, if a dyer does not have the scientific knowledge in the chemical process, they will be unable to choose suppliers, or purchase chemicals, that are reliably fit-for-purpose. This limited and limiting approach will result in an inferior finished product that may not meet the standards of the dye house’s customers and clients.

If a mistake is made and the outcomes were not as expected, it will then be hard for a dyer with only rudimentary training to understand what went awry and put fixes in place.

They are also much less likely to get it right first time not only resulting in poor quality dyeing, but also potentially causing huge financial losses to their employer.

And lastly, sustainability will be compromised. Although not directly related, quality and sustainability are often tied together as requirements from the customer or client. The dyer will struggle to create new sustainable processes — or implement changes to make existing operations more eco-friendly — if they do not have the necessary skills for critical, science-led thinking.

What will be the result?

First and foremost will be the loss of custom if a poor quality product with incorrect colours or reduction in fastness is offered, due to a lack of knowledge within the dye house. Of course, this will greatly affect smaller and boutique dye houses and only larger operations with in-house training will remain – albeit with a narrower remit and set of skills.

Secondly, large swathes of the industry will be wiped out, and technical skills and knowledge will be lost forever, impacting hugely on supply chains globally. We will see a huge reduction in the availability of coloured textiles, which will cause mass disruption across almost all global industries.

What can be done?

We must bring chemistry back into the dye house and make efforts to train and recruit talent that has a good foundation in the science behind the coloration of fabric.

This can be done in various ways; through globally available online training, better incentives and traineeships that encourage young people to enter the industry, and a more practical approach to learning, ie earn while you learn, being promoted by employers.

The industry must also work together collaboratively to change perceptions of young people on textile dyeing as a career choice – liaising closely with schools and educational institutions to put ‘dyer’ firmly on the list of viable career choices.

Put simply, we must put the science first, otherwise the market will be flooded with textiles of inferior dye quality, and the industry as a whole will suffer.