April 30 - A luxury UK shoe maker, which makes footwear for the British royal family, is finding it hard to recruit suitable workers despite high unemployment in the country and the prospect of a career in a highly successful industry. Ciara Sutton reports.
They've been making shoes for royalty and celebrities for generations. And at Tricker's' Northampton factory, the production process hasn't changed much since it opened in 1829. But its presence on the international scene has. The factory's output has nearly doubled in the past four years, with Japan and Italy being its biggest overseas markets. One of its more unique designs is a pair of bespoke crocodile shoes, priced at around 2000 pounds. But the traditional family business says it is under threat from a lack of skilled workers coming into the industry. Barry Jones is company director. (SOUNDBITE) (English) TRICKER'S DIRECTOR, BARRY JONES, SAYING: "The biggest threat is labour. There's just not the skills around anymore. It's very expensive to train people up. There's not the colleges around Northampton that there used to be to train people in footwear. So obviously we have to do a lot of in-house training which is expensive and time consuming. Scott McKee has been a hand laster with Tricker's for 17 years. He followed his father into the trade. (SOUNDBITE) (English) TRICKER'S HAND LASTER, SCOTT MCKEE, SAYING: "I'm my own boss, so that's pretty good. Handmaking shoes, which I enjoy doing. I get a good feeling out of it because I know I am making shoes for a person who can't buy these shoes from a shop. These are specially made so that's a good feeling." But Scott says he doesn't feel the profession is lucrative enough for his children to follow him. Northampton has been home to British shoe making for nearly 200 years. It once boasted around 250 factories - but today there are just 3 left in operation. PTC There's no next day delivery with Tricker's. A pair of bespoke shoes like these can take up to three months to arrive, but its growing international customer base doesn't seem to mind waiting. At Northampton's newly revamped shoe museum, local council leader David Mackintosh says he hopes the town can restore its pride in the shoe making profession. (SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) LEADER OF NORTHAMPTON BOROUGH COUNCIL, DAVID MACKINTOSH, SAYING: "The whole work force has diversified in the town. New industries have come here. But I think we now recognise that in order to retain this as part of our local industry and heritage as a town, we do need to address that. And we're working with a lot of the local shoe firms who have come to us and told us of this issue." Tricker's has so far resisted moving into the emerging markets of China and India. It says it doesn't want to compete with cheap labour costs and the replica market. But this doesn't stop Asia coming to Northampton. There's a constant stream of Chinese and Japanese tourists trickling through Tricker's factory shop - hoping to walk away with their piece of Northampton's shoe history. Ciara Sutton, Reuters.