Two island women have become the first to achieve Modern Apprenticeship accreditation as Harris Tweed weavers, a milestone for both the industry and the national Modern Apprentice programme which has never previously accredited an individual in self-employment. 

Jacqueline Craig and Anne Marie Henderson received their certificates from Cllr Alasdair Macleod at an event held as part of Scottish Apprenticeship Week.

Presenting the certificates Cllr. Macleod commented:  “I am very pleased to present these certificates today, this project has tested new ground for Modern Apprentice delivery and we are proud to be involved.  There has been a considerable joint effort here from those who conceived and funded the project to the training officers involved in the co-ordination and delivery, the assessors, the HTA, the community Trusts and not least the mentor tutors and trainees.  Well done to all, we wish the trainees every success with their weaving careers going forward.”

The Modern Apprenticeships were delivered as part of a wider project to support the Harris Tweed industry.  Community trusts Horshader Community Development and Tolsta Community Development Ltd. utilised revenue from their renewable energy assets to purchase double-width looms with a view to creating locally based, flexible employment opportunities.  

The new looms were ordered directly from engineering firm Griffiths Textile Machinery Ltd and then leased to individuals living within the trusts catchment areas.  

Tolsta Community Development Limited commented: “TCDL/Tolsta Power are delighted to have had the opportunity to be part of this project.  Purchasing the four looms made it possible to create employment for four residents locally and we are very proud that one of our weavers has achieved this Modern Apprenticeship.  

"With the help from Harris Tweed Authority, CNES and HIE, we have enabled all our weavers to train to SVQ Level 2 and we wish them well in their new employment.”

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the Harris Tweed Authority and Highlands and Islands Enterprise supported training for the prospective weavers via a bespoke programme of mentor-led tuition. With the involvement of Skills Development Scotland the innovative proposal of aiming to deliver this training as a Modern Apprenticeship was conceived.  

Modern Apprenticeships are usually structured around the employer / employee relationship whilst the 1993 Harris Tweed Act of Parliament requires weavers to be independent producers who are mainly self-employment. Therefore close co-operative working between all was required but coupled with Jacqueline and Anne Marie’s participation in the pilot a successful outcome was achieved.

SDS Sector Manager for Creative Industries David Martin said: "Congratulations to Jacqueline and Anne Marie.  It is fantastic to be able to recognise their achievements and the positive example they are setting to others.  Presenting their certificates during Scottish Apprenticeship Week is an excellent opportunity to acknowledge their efforts and highlight the benefits of apprenticeships to both them as individuals and to the Harris Tweed industry. If you are interested in apprenticeships, SDS can offer advice and support in person and via website”

The successful model of mentor-led tuition used was originally devised through previous rounds of EU funded training that was delivered in partnership between local agencies and the Harris Tweed industry.  The tutor weavers involved throughout have been commended for the patience and clarity they have demonstrated in passing on the expert and technical knowledge of this very specific skill.  These earlier programmes saw Modern Apprenticeships completed by mill based workers, led to the creation of the first formally accredited Harris Tweed Weaving course and were cited as an example of best practice in vocational training.  

Lorna Macaulay, Chief Executive of the Harris Tweed Authority said: “This project has been a great achievement. Not only for the trainees involved but also that our ancient and unique industry is breaking new ground in terms of piloting creative training interventions. It is vital we continually communicate with our global customers that the Harris Tweed workforce are trained, accredited and highly skilled craftsmen and women. The HTA is extremely grateful to our partners, CnES, HIE and SDS for their not insignificant roles in getting this project over the line so successful."

Photo caption - Jacqueline Craig, Bragar, and Anne Marie Henderson, North Tolsta, receiving their certificates for achieving Modern Apprenticeships in Harris Tweed weaving during Scottish Apprenticeship Week.  Also pictured are Cllr Alastair Macleod, Vice-Chair of the Harris Tweed Authority, Cllr Norman A. Macdonald, Convener of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, and representatives from those involved with the training delivery including the Comhairle’s Economic Development Service and Training Section, Skills Development Scotland, the Harris Tweed Authority and Tolsta Community Development Ltd.