Home / News / Northern Ireland’s First Fashion and Textile Apprenticeship #NAW2023

Northern Ireland’s First Fashion and Textile Apprenticeship #NAW2023


For the 2023 edition of the National Apprenticeship Week, UKFT is highlighting the success stories of apprentices and employers across the nations.

Today, the spotlight is on Northern Ireland with The Fashion and Textile Design Centre (FTCD), 21 Training and the Cooneen Group.


The first fashion and textile apprenticeship programme in Northern Ireland

The Fashion and Textile Design Centre is a not-for-profit, social initiative based in Derry/Londonderry. Founded in 2014 by the Inner City Trust, the FTDC supports start-up businesses, established SMEs, schools and the wider community with their skills and business development needs. The FTCT has partnered with the training and apprenticeship specialists 21 Training to deliver the very first fashion and textile apprenticeship programme in Northern Ireland.

The pilot of this apprenticeship programme is currently underway with two employees of the Cooneen Group, a leading garment manufacturer operating in Europe and beyond, whose historical headquarters are based in Northern Ireland. The Cooneen Group is the first manufacturing apparel company to introduce an apprenticeship programme to their workforce in this area.



Standing in front of the mural dedicated to Derry’s female shirt factory workers, left to right: Deirdre Williams – FTDC, Kerry Monaghan – Cooneen, Lauren & Emily – Cooneen Apprentices and Chloe Mc Colgan – FTDC.


A collaboration between FTDC, 21 Training and the Cooneen Group

In 2022, the Cooneen Group reached out to both 21 Training and the FTDC to take on apprenticeship training and assessing within the apparel manufacturing side of their business. As a result, the pilot was born! Deirdre Williams, Business Development Manager at the FTDC comments:

“The creation of the fashion & textile apprenticeship programme in Northern Ireland has been a long journey and we are pleased to say that we will have our first apprentices completing the programme within the next few weeks.

We have had a fantastic time working with the team at Cooneen to deliver both the practical and knowledge based certificates, and feel that the first apprentices have excelled in all areas. We are looking forward to rolling out the programme to new apprentices within the business and other companies throughout the coming year.

Our partnership with 21 Training has allowed this programme to happen and we hope that it is the first of many with our growing fashion & textile industry in Northern Ireland.”


national apprenticeship week

Left to Right: Emma Kirwan – Cooneen, Debbie Deans – 21 Training, Kerry Monaghan – Cooneen, Mia Coyle – 21 Training, Helen Sayers – Cooneen, Deirdre Williams – FTDC


Level 2 Certificate in Manufacturing Sewn Products & Apparel Production

Currently underway with Emily and Lauren, machinists at the Cooneen Group, the programme is taking place in Five Mile Town, Co. Tyrone (Northern Ireland). Both apprentices are being trained and assessed in the following certificates:

  • Level 2 Certificate in Manufacturing Sewn Products (NVQ)
  • Level 2 Certificate in Apparel Footwear Leather or Textile Production (Apparel Production)

Emily and Lauren will soon complete their apprenticeship and receive an industry recognised qualification via the awarding body Skills and Education Group. Their training covered topics such as health and safety, maintenance of machines and processes involved in sewing and manufacturing, as well as the history of apparel and technical processes.

Emily said: “I am a creative person, so the Apprenticeship Programme is ideal for expanding my skills.”

Meanwhile, Lauren explained: ““I enjoy learning new skills and learning to sew has been an exciting new challenge.”


national apprenticeship week

Left to right: Emily, Lauren and FTDC’s Trainer and Assessor Chloe Mc Colgan.


Training a new generation of skilled machinists

The creation of the fashion and textile apprenticeship training in Northern Ireland transpired after the publication of the Invest NI’s Collaborative Network Scoping Study of Fashion & Textiles in Northern Ireland, in 2018. It reported the immediate need to address the risk of skills dying out in this sector by training a new generation of skilled machinists.

national apprenticeship week

§Emily and Lauren undertaking their apprenticeship.

Kerry Monaghan, Training Coordinator at the Cooneen Group, said:

“The Apprenticeship Programme has been a great opportunity to engage new talent into our business and strengthen our sewing heritage. The aim in 2023 is to grow our Apprenticeship Programme and equip our Apprentices with lifelong skills.” 

Click on the link below to learn more about apprenticeships in Northern Ireland:


Discover Apprenticeships in Northern Ireland