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An apparent gap exists between skills and job demands in the United States. Community colleges that offer Career and Technical Education (CTE) have emerged as important institutions that attempt to bridge the gap owing to their positioning in the society. This is in lieu of the fact that the demand for technical skills will continue to grow in future and in an unprecedented way.
In the United States, the number of employment opportunities that require specific technical skills will surpass 51 million by 2018 (Carnevale et al. 2010). This is notwithstanding current deficiency in skilled laborers within the country. Among career clusters that are intrinsic to CTE are fashion and artistry (Ruffing, 2009).
To that end, it is important to highlight the career pathways that fashion industry provide to post secondary education graduates. Fashion merchandising is a career pathway that connects students to careers related to fashion. It also resonates with home economics. This paper seeks to explore the history of fashion merchandising within the larger picture of CTE.
History of Fashion Merchandising
Fashion merchandising is a sub discipline of marketing that involves selling and promoting fashion designs, clothes and other elements of fashion (Conley, 2007). The sub discipline has grown tremendously over the last century owing to the apparent growth in fashion industry (Breward, 2003). In fact, fashion industry has grown in popularity all over the world.
It is important to mention that fashion merchandisers are at sometimes fashion designers who have attained technical skills from different institutions. As such, the growth of technical education particularly in the field of fashion has created a career pathway where skilled post secondary school students can enter the job market. Fashion merchandising requires impeccable skills in marketing fashion products as well as promoting them (Breward, 2003).
Further, it is essential to highlight that fashion merchandising has grown exponentially partially because of vibrant media. In fact, many students who have skills in fashion design have encountered momentous challenges relating to marketing strategies and increasing their sales revenues. As such, fashion merchandising has increased the need for knowledge in home economics as well as marketing.
According to numerous educationists, fashion merchandising has opened many career pathways for post secondary school students who have the basics of home economics (Breward, 2003). By the middle of 20th century, the field of fashion merchandising was not popular as it is in the modern world (Perrot, 1994). The rationale is that there has existed a historical gap between technical and theoretical education in education institutions.
As such, many postsecondary graduates proceeded to join universities and continued with academic inquiry (theory) at the expense of CTE. Nonetheless, the need for CTE increased at the onset of 21st century (Perrot, 1994). According to Swanson & Holton (2009), the profit making objectives of corporate organizations across the world have led to minimization of labor costs.
This implies that organizations and companies do not only seek to employ highly educated laborers only but also seek to reduce the number of employees as a way of remaining competitive and profitable (Swanson & Holton, 2009). Hence, there has been a shift in the labor market from highly educated individuals to highly valued technical skills.
Fashion merchandising has a history that is intertwined with fashion industry (Breward, 2003). The rationale is that the rise of fashion industry came along with the concept of merchandising. Fashion industry traces its roots in Paris, France. In the 20th century, specific mediums of communication such as magazines had begun to publish fashion photographs leading to an increase in avenues of merchandising. It is important to underscore that fashion industry had taken route in Western Europe.
This in turn led to increase of fashion merchandises (Perrot, 1994). In the early 21st century, fashion industry had expanded as people begun to adopt independent lifestyles. According to Perrot (1994), many people had begun to spend conspicuously on fashion and other outfits by the end of First World War. Due to the rise in demand of lavish and expensive fashion outfits, many individuals ventured in the lucrative fashion industry.
Such fashion designers as Jacques Doucet emerged to fill gaps that existed in the market (Swanson & Holton, 2009). It became apparent that fashion outfits and design required specialized skills and training. During the Great Depression of 1930s, the fashion industry was affected like all other industries but it created an avenue for self-employment and jobs.
Many unemployed people showed unprecedented interest in fashion. According to Ruffing (2009), prominent designers such as Elsa Schiaparelli remained resilient amidst the harsh economic and social challenges facing the country.
In 1950s, fashion industry had attracted many individuals, companies and other stakeholders. This implied that many people were required to meet the growing demand of fashion products. According to various educationists, education curriculum was rigid in the sense that technical education was not popular (Swanson & Holton, 2009).
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Despite the increase in the demand for technical skills, public education institutions continued to offer conventional education to post secondary school education. However, many people continued to adore lifestyle and fashion in 1970s. This precipitated the emergence of many fashion destinations like Hollywood. Notwithstanding the popularity and growing incentives in the field of fashion, the gap in skilled and trained designers continued to typify the industry (Swanson & Holton, 2009).
It is important to highlight that many technical institutions had began to emerge in many parts of the world by 1980. To address the gaps that existed, many institutions started offering curriculums that encompassed fashion merchandising. This is in lieu of the fact that many students who acquired skills in fashion and design did not have equivalent skills of marketing and selling their outfits (Conley, 2007).
Although the concept of fashion merchandising was not popular by the end of 20th century, it became clear that fashion industry would provide a platform for jobs and employment (Ruffing, 2009). Besides, trained fashion designers would benefit considerably if the acquired skills of marketing and selling their designs.
According to Ruffing (2009), fashion merchandising is typical of marketing and selling of fashion outfit and designs. The concept has expanded in the modern world to the advantage of unemployed and skilled secondary graduates. Post secondary students should use their skills in such field as home economics in fashion merchandising. The reason is that they require business skills to sell their outfits and nurture their careers.
For instance, a post secondary student who has acquired skills in fashion merchandising will be in a position to develop a clear marketing strategy that will allow him or her to sell his products in an efficient and profitable way. According to Carnevale et al. (2010), a post secondary credential is important and necessary in order to obtain a well paying job and a career. The rationale is that it is increasingly difficult for high school and college graduates to enter job market without the necessary skills.
While it is important to acquire skills through technical education, it is essential to highlight the gaps that have existed within education curriculum. By early 19th century, there was an apparent divide in education especially between technical education and secondary education (Gonzalez, 2010). This was not only in the field of fashion but also in other technical fields.
It implied therefore that many students who graduated from high schools and colleges lacked essential and technical knowhow to make an entry in many fields. The recent efforts have focused on aligning CTE with the conventional high school curriculums and degrees. In fact, Kawamura (2005) notes that development of CTE strategies is in accordance with the need to align secondary and postsecondary technical education.
For instance, high school graduates did not receive the requisite skills about fashion merchandising during their secondary education. Therefore, they are not adequately prepared for employment in many sectors especially in the fashion industry.
The continued need for CTE has also precipitated changes in school curriculums for many schools across the United States (Kawamura, 2005). Many states have recognized the importance of ensuring that technical education has been integrated into the mainstream education curriculums. By 2009, almost all local and state governments had initiated various strategies to ensure that the apparent gap in skills (Kawamura, 2005).
Education institutions have also recognized the importance of fashion and have consequently integrated it in secondary education syllabuses (Gordon, 2008). This is in recognition of the fact that CTE’s main objective is to prepare the workforce (Soares, 2010). Undoubtedly, industries and private sector have raised concerns on the gaps that exist in the labor market.
Integration of CTE in the mainstream curriculum of secondary education will increase workers readiness for careers and other avenues of postsecondary education. To enhance effectiveness in this sector, governments have collaborated with the private sector and corporate organizations to improve preparedness of students and increase relevancy of acquired education (Gordon, 2008).
In fact, there has been an increase in support for vocational and community training institutions especially from the private sector. The reason is that the private sector has comprehended the importance of equipping students with technical skills and preparing them for postsecondary entry (Gordon, 2008).
As companies aim to reduce their operation costs, it has become imperative to hire employees who have requisite skills and knowledge in order to reduce expenses associated with recruitment of employees (Soares, 2010). This is because many companies incur costs when they train new employees who lack technical skills. As such, it has become important to create synergy with stakeholders to address the apparent gap in the field of education.
As elucidated by Soares (2010), community colleges have the ability and diversity in pedagogy required to improve CTE for numerous members of the society. As such, it is important for community colleges to create collaborations with private sector in order to improve educational attainment (Gonzalez, 2010). This is in terms of high quality skills and diploma attainment.
Undoubtedly, fashion merchandising has opened an avenue through which private sector, educationists and community colleges can collaborate to increase quality of training among students (Ruffing, 2009).
Many fashion outlets and companies ought to increase their responsiveness to the gaps that exist in CTE and secondary education. The rationale is that fashion merchandising is an excellent model and a platform where the private sector and community colleges can work together to complement skills that students acquire in secondary education (Kawamura, 2005).
Most fashion schools offer postsecondary education that complement the skills and knowledge that students acquire during their secondary education (Conley, 2007). It complements theoretical education with practical skills by providing relevant experiences to the students (Carnevale, 2010). This is in the form of cooperative environment and employment in the field of fashion and design.
Secondary education, fashion schools and occupational areas work together to develop a student and benefit all stakeholders involved (Carnevale, 2010). Although many students are drawn into emerging technical careers within fashion industry, there is a whole range of other technical areas that have become popular in the contemporary world (Soares, 2010).
In particular, information technology (IT), tourism and hospitality industries have continued to provide numerous opportunities for students with high school certificates and diplomas (Kawamura, 2005). Fashion merchandising provides students and trainees with employment while at the same time improving their skills owing specialized training (Soares, 2010). In many instances, fashion merchandisers begin their occupations and careers with their chosen employer.
This implies that the employer pays for their training, which allows the student to understand dynamics of the organization. Although acquisition of skills in fashion merchandising may take long since it requires continuous upgrade of priory acquired skills, the trainees gain necessary knowledge that will allow them to succeed as employers and job creators in future (Gonzalez, 2010).
Currently, trainees and mentors who have graduated require guidance and mentorship in a huge way. The rationale is that making a transition from a trainee into an employee is a challenging process that should involve guidance. This is at a time where a trainee begins his or her career and any important decision may have long lasting effects and impacts. As such, fashion schools and community college should ensure that the trainees understand the main aspects of training and occupation entry.
According to Soares (2010), it is not enough for trainees to learn skills in community colleges without making an occupation from the training. All stakeholders should work in line with the standards of the labor market to ensure that graduates from technical schools achieve their objectives (Carnevale, 2010).
While fashion merchandising is an important technical career, other areas and sectors have dominated the modern world. As such, it is upon the trainees to choose the right technical career that is marketable and relevant to business needs.
In essence, an apparent gap exists between secondary and postsecondary education. CTE has emerged as a strategy to align secondary education with relevant skills in business environment. This follows concerns raised by various industries about lack of requisite skills in US labor market. While high school diplomas and certificates were essential in providing students with employment, companies look for individuals with specialized skills to perform specific jobs.
Fashion merchandising skills are important for success in fashion industry. This is in recognition of the rich history that fashion merchandising has especially regarding career and employment. As such, all stakeholders should work together to improve the alignment of conventional education with CTE.
Breward, C. (2003).The Culture of Fashion: A New History of Fashionable Dress. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
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Conley, T. (2007). Redefining College Readiness. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Gonzalez, J. (2010). Apprenticeship programs expand with help of community colleges. The chronicle of higher education, 57(4), 4-8.
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