Dressed for success: how apprentices can be a perfect fit

If you are interested in finding out more about employing apprentices and the benefits they can bring to a business like Angels the Costumiers, please complete the enquiry form. Alternatively you can call the National Apprenticeship Service on 08000 150 600.

London-based Angels has been supplying costumes to the entertainment industry for nearly 200 years. As a family-run business, it is passionate about the company and its trade and expects no less from its employees. “Our staff need to have a real passion for costumes and history as well as excellent skills,” says Shelley Thompson, training manager at Angels.

Four out of five Academy Awards nominees in this year’s costume design category were dressed by Angels, including the Oscar-winning The Grand Budapest Hotel.

A gap in the market

“Over the last few years, we became increasingly frustrated by the skills gap we saw in university graduates who had no relevant industry experience,” explains Thompson. To bridge this skills gap, Angels launched its first Intermediate Apprenticeship in Costume and Wardrobe in 2011.

She advertised on the National Apprenticeship Service’s vacancies website and received more than 400 applications. Three apprentices were selected; they have since successfully completed both their intermediate and advanced apprenticeships and are permanent members of staff.

Angels also took on a web media apprentice who completed her Advanced Apprenticeship in Creative and Digital Media and is also now a permanent member of the Angels team.

In 2012, Angels recruited a further four costume apprentices. They are currently working through their advanced apprenticeships.

Building a skilled workforce

As well as being able to select candidates from a wider group, Thompson has noticed a reduction in recruitment costs. “We were spending a huge amount of time and money on training graduates who after a couple of years would leave and work freelance. We then had to start again. Apprenticeships allow us to create a pool of well-trained staff who continue to move up the ranks.”

Apprentices receive all their training in-house at Angels but are assessed by an external tutor from Amersham & Wycombe College. The apprentices gain a Level 2 or 3 NVQ in a subject related to their apprenticeship.

“Our training is wide-ranging and apprentices rotate between different departments to gain as varied an experience as possible,” Thompson explains.

“Once they move onto their advanced apprenticeships, they start working with customers on small orders and gradually progress on to more complex activities, while increasing their knowledge and confidence.”

“Our apprenticeships are now firmly at the heart of our business,” says Thompson.

“They give us the opportunity to train staff to meet the demands of our business and they offer meaningful opportunities to young people trying to get into the industry.”

Angels was highly commended in the Employer Newcomer Category in the London Regional Awards of the 2013 National Apprenticeship Awards.


The National Apprenticeship Service supports the delivery of apprenticeships and traineeships in England. It offers free, impartial advice and support to employers looking to recruit for the first time or expand their programme.

For more information on the benefits of apprenticeships to your business complete the enquiry form to talk to someone at the National Apprenticeship Service.  Alternatively you can call the National Apprenticeship Service on free phone 08000 150 600.