Textile Operative

The Job and What's Involved

Textile operatives undertake many different tasks in the production of textile materials. Many textile machines are now automated, therefore a key aspect of a textile operative's job is to maintain the supply of fabric and materials into machines and ensure the processes are running smoothly. A single operative often oversees several machines at once.

Responsibilities usually include:

  • Starting up and loading machines with material.
  • Close observation to make sure production continues without interruption.
  • Making minor adjustments or stopping and re-threading machines.
  • Reporting technical faults to a technician.
  • Keeping the production areas clean, tidy and free from fluff.
  • Quality checking finished material for imperfections.

There are different stages involved in textile manufacture. Operatives may specialise in one production aspect or rotate between the different processes.

These include:

The preparation of natural and synthetic fibres. Non-fibrous, synthetic materials are dissolved or melted and then pushed through small holes to form threads. The natural fibres are cleaned, combed, and twisted into yarns called slivers.

The spinning of yarn, using machines that draw out and twist slivers and wind the yarn on to bobbins or cones.

The production of fabric, using machines that weave yarns for fashion or furnishing fabrics, together with machines that knit loops of yarn for items such as socks or hosiery, or those involved in tufting (the process of pushing yarn loops through a backing material to make carpets, for example).

The dyeing and finishing of textiles, which can include printing on to fabric surfaces or treating fabrics to give a certain durability, such as stain, crease or fire resistance; or steaming or heating fabric while over a model to form shapes for socks or hosiery items.

Textile operatives usually work between 37 and 40 hours a week from Monday to Friday. They usually work a shift pattern, which may include early mornings or evenings. Overtime and part-time work is often available.

Modern textile factories are light, spacious and well ventilated. Many are now equipped with dust extractors. Some machines are noisy, but operatives are provided with mandatory ear protection.

Textile operatives are usually provided with other protective clothing such as overalls, safety footwear, gloves and masks. It can be a physical job, with operatives spending a lot of time on their feet, standing, walking, bending, stretching and lifting heavy goods.

New entrants may start on between £11,000 and £13,000 a year. With more experience, an operative may earn between £14,000 and £17,000 a year. Senior operatives may earn up to £20,000 a year.

Earnings may be increased through shift allowances and piecework payments, which depend on the volume of items produced.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are almost 19,000 textile operatives employed within the UK across strands of the textiles industry (Skillfast-UK Business Survey 2008). Whilst there is expected to be a decline in textile operative employment within the UK, there will be a large number of opportunities in the future to replace people retiring from the industry. There is growing demand for operatives to be multiskilled in all aspects of textile production.

The greatest concentration of textile activity is found in West Yorkshire, Lancashire and Manchester. Other key centres include the East Midlands and Scotland. Kidderminster is the traditional base for carpet manufacturing. However, smaller textile production companies are spread throughout the UK.

Vacancies are usually advertised in local newspapers, Jobcentre Plus offices and Connexions centres.

Apprenticeship opportunities may be publicised by employers on their company websites.

Education and Training

There are no specific academic qualifications required to become a textile operative. Employers may request eyesight and colour vision tests for certain operative jobs.

There are opportunities for young people to train in this area as an apprentice within the Fashion and Textiles Apprenticeship Framework (textiles pathway).

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

Another entry route into this industry is through the 14-19 Diplomas, especially the Diploma in manufacturing and product design, where textiles-specific units can be studied.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most of the training is carried out on the job, under the supervision of an experienced colleague, or by a training provider. Work-based learning qualifications are largely supported by the industry and operatives are encouraged to work towards these as part of their training.

Relevant qualifications include:

- NVQ Level 2 in manufacturing textiles
- NVQ Level 3 in manufacturing textiles

Apprenticeships also include a technical certificate, which can be studied at a training centre or in the work place.

Relevant qualifications include:

  • ABC Awards Level 2 Certificate in apparel, footwear, leather or textile production.
  • ABC Awards Level 3 Certificate in textile technology.

Work-based learning will also cover topics such as health and safety, employer rights and responsibilities, the history of the industry, understanding materials, manufacturing techniques and treatments, the use of machinery and tools and quality standards.

The Textile Institute also offers globally recognised professional qualifications for people who work within the textile industry.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Textile operatives need:

  • Concentration, to remain focused for long periods when carrying out repetitive tasks.
  • Good practical skills and manual dexterity.
  • A methodical approach to work and good timekeeping skills.
  • Good eyesight and, for some jobs, normal colour vision.
  • The ability to take the initiative, but work well within a team.
  • Good communication and interpersonal skills.
  • To take a responsible approach to workplace health and safety.
  • A reasonable level of physical fitness.

Your Long Term Prospects

With an increase in demand for textile production supervisors and managers to oversee a line of production staff, the opportunities for experienced textile operatives are good. Prospects are likely to be greater for multiskilled operatives.

Opportunities to move into management posts may be enhanced with further study.

Quality control, sales and machinery maintenance positions may be open to experienced operatives. Some may also move into training.

Get Further Information

Skillset, Focus Point,
21 Caledonian Road,
London N1 9GB
Tel: 020 7713 9800
Website: www.skillset.org

Textile Centre for Excellence,
Textile House, Red Doles Lane,
Huddersfield HD2 1YF
Tel: 01484 346500
Website: www.textilehouse.co.uk

The Textile Institute,
1st Floor, St James' Buildings,
Oxford Street, Manchester M1 6FQ
Tel: 0161 237 1188
Website: www.textileinstitute.org

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