Leather Technologist

The Job and What's Involved

Leather technologists supervise and manage the process of the conversion of raw hides and skins into leather. The raw material is supplied in a temporarily preserved condition (cured).

Leather technologists design and oversee a range of processes which include:

Beamhouse Operations - to clean and purify the raw material.

Tanning - to permanently preserve the hide.

Re-Tanning and Dyeing - to modify the product, second tanning is carried out so that the leather can be prepared for receiving the final colour (dyeing).

Fat Liquoring - to give a final softness to the tanned hide.

Finishing - to apply a surface coating.

These processes produce a material suitable for a wide variety of finished products, including shoes, clothes and upholstery.

The various uses of leather require different characteristics and specification. Leather technologists use their technical knowledge and experience to produce this variety of leather types. They must understand the materials used and how they react under certain conditions.

A leather technologist also works in a laboratory checking and testing the leather produced. This may include writing up results and project reports, advising management and making any necessary changes to the processes.

Leather technologists are responsible for the control of the waste and reducing the effects of any pollution that may be caused by the leather-making process. They also control the costs of production and have responsibility for machinery, the supervision of staff and quality control.

The work is both practical and technical. The work involves using computer-controlled automated machinery and process equipment.

Leather technologists employed in a tannery work the leather industry standard minimum working week, which is around 40 hours. Shift work may be involved, which is often a combination of early and late shifts, between 6am and 10pm. Some leather technologists working outside a factory environment may work normal office hours.

Leather technologists divide their time between the factory, workshop and laboratory. They may also spend some time in an office.

The leather industry is worldwide with most leather now being made overseas. Hides and skins can be imported from, and exported, all over the world. Travelling within the UK or overseas may therefore be necessary.

Starting salaries for leather technologists may be around £14,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Leather technologists may be employed by companies involved in the leather manufacturing industry. They may also work in the footwear, clothing, fashion and retail industries. Jobs may be available in chemical and engineering industries and in the manufacture of items such as bags, suitcases, upholstery, footballs and cricket balls, as well as car and aircraft seats, hydraulic seals and gaskets. Importers and retailers of footwear and upholstery also need leather technologists to ensure that products consistently meet quality standards and customer expectations.

Leather factories can be found throughout the UK, although they are concentrated in the west of England, Northamptonshire, Yorkshire and central Scotland. There is a steady demand for well-qualified and skilled leather technologists, with expanding opportunities overseas.

This role is fairly rare and there is a shortage of some specialist skills.

Vacancies may be advertised in the local and national press, in trade magazines such as World Leather, and on the associated website www.leatherbiz.com. BLC Leather Technology Centre Ltd also advertises vacancies on its website at www.blcleathertech.com.

Education and Training

A wide range of qualifications is available and entry to this job is possible in a number of different ways.

An Apprenticeship scheme is available which relates to footwear and leather goods and would provide opportunities in leather technology. Further information is available from Skillfast-UK.

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.

A number of relevant NVQs/SVQs are available, including:

  • Leathergoods at Level 2.
  • Leather Production at Levels 2 and 3.
  • Laboratory and Associated Technical Activities at
    Levels 1 to 4.

The main qualifications for entry to leather technology careers are awarded by the British School of Leather Technology at the University of Northampton.

  • BTEC National Certificate in (Science) Leather Technology. This is a one-year full-time course which can provide entry to a degree course in leather technology. Entry requirements are four GCSEs/S grades (A-C/1-3) to include science and maths, or equivalent qualifications.
  • BSc (Hons) Materials Science (Leather). Entry requirements are two A levels/three H grades or equivalent, one of which must be a physical science.
  • MSc in Leather Technology.
  • MPhil or PhD in Leather Technology.

Other relevant qualifications include a Degree in Materials Technology (Leather) and a Masters Degree in Clothing Technology.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Technicians aged 20 or over, with at least two years' previous tannery experience, or with experience in an area of applied science, can take the one-year full-time Leathersellers Certificate in Leather Studies at the British School of Leather Technology at the University of Northampton. This course combines the study of practical leather-making with leather science, management and other relevant subjects.

Students completing this course may also apply to become Associates of the Society of Leather Technologists and Chemists (ASLTC), which can lead to Fellowship of the Society (FSLTC).

The Society of Dyers and Colourists offers diploma courses which lead to the professional status of Chartered Colourist. The Associateship (CCol ASDC) is a degree level qualification awarded to candidates with appropriate experience who have either passed the prescribed Society examinations or hold an equivalent recognised qualification.

BLC Leather Technology Centre offers a wide range of training courses for the leather industry including an intensive course in leather technology.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A leather technologist needs to:

  • Be good at science, particularly chemistry.
  • Have good numerical and computer skills.
  • Be able to plan projects, experiment and develop new ideas.
  • Be patient and pay attention to detail.
  • Have strong communication skills.
  • Be able to manage and supervise people.
  • Preferably have some knowledge of mechanics or engineering.
  • Be able to work on their own and as part of a team.
  • Have normal colour vision.
  • Be able to contribute to setting quality and environmental standards.
  • Have language skills if they are to work abroad.

Your Long Term Prospects

It may be possible to move on from work as a leather technologist to other jobs in production, quality control, research or technical management. Technologists can also move into related areas such as buying, sales or marketing.

There are good opportunities for leather technologists to work abroad.

Get Further Information

BLC Leather Technology Centre Limited,
Leather Trade House, Kings Park Road,
Moulton Park, Northampton NN3 6JD
Tel: 01604 679 999
Website: www.blcleathertech.com

The British School of Leather Technology,
The University of Northampton,
Park Campus, Boughton Green Road,
Northampton NN2 7AL
Tel: 01604 735500
Course Freephone 0800 358 2232
Website: www.northampton.ac.uk

Skillfast-UK, Richmond House,
Lawnswood Business Park, Revers Close,
Leeds LS16 6RD
Tel: 0113 23 99 600
Website: www.skillfast-uk.org

The Society of Dyers and Colourists (SDC),
PO Box 244, Perkin House,
82 Grattan Road, Bradford BD1 2JB
Tel: 01274 725138
Website: www.sdc.org.uk

SATRA, SATRA House,
Rockingham Road, Kettering,
Northamptonshire NN16 9JH
Tel: 01536 410000
Website: www.satra.co.uk

Society of Leather Technologists and Chemists,
c/o The British School of Leather Technology,
The University of Northampton, Park Campus,
Boughton Green Road, Northampton NN2 7AL
Tel: 01604 735500
Website: www.sltc.org

The Society of Master Saddlers,
Green Lane Farm, Stonham,
Stowmarket, Suffolk IP14 5DS
Tel: 01449 711642
Website: www.mastersaddlers.co.uk

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