The Fashion Retail Academy (FRA) was established in September 2005, and so far it has accepted some 600 students, of which a large majority have gained employment in the fashion industry in various positions, including buyer’s assistants, PR and visual merchandising and store management.

Designed by and for professionals in the industry, in tandem with Skillsmart Retail, the year-long courses offered could put you a step ahead of other candidates wishing to enter the industry. This is because it has been created specifically to suit the needs of top employers in the sector, with a big emphasis on hands-on experience rather than purely academic learning.

Located in central London, the FRA offers a host of useful modules that cover every aspect of the industry, from shop-floor design and styling through to store management or fashion buying.

Not only that, but the courses are designed with a focus on practical experience: you will spend up to half of your time actually working in the industry, being placed in various positions with high-profile retailers such as Topshop and Marks & Spencer. This gives students a fantastic opportunity to experience a career before embarking upon it, and gain an accredited qualification while they’re at it.

There’s another bonus to consider too: you will have an unparalleled opportunity to make contacts and meet key figures in the industry, which will give you an invaluable headstart. The academy runs masterclasses to complement the academic and work-based modules of the course, in which influential people – such as Sir Philip Green, billionaire owner of the Arcadia Group, which comprises Topshop/Topman, Dorothy Perkins, Miss Selfridges and several other chains – are invited to pass on their wisdom and inspiration to students.

The academy runs two courses, both running for a year on a full-time basis. The first is open to those aged 16 and over at the start of the course, and no qualifications are necessary. It ends up as a Level 2 Diploma, and graduates can go into a junior position in fashion retail or go on to further study.

The second course is more in-depth, and is open to those aged 17 or over. This requires a good level of numeracy and literacy, assessed before students are admitted. Graduates from this course will end up with a Level 3 diploma and be suitably equipped to work in a junior management position, for example. The course is free for those under 19; if you are over 19 you’re still welcome, but will have to pay fees.

Something else to bear in mind: if you’re not from London you may have to sort out your own accommodation, which can be expensive. Kim Morton, the HR director for the Arcadia Group, explains more. “An 18- year-old from the Academy has a much better chance of being accepted onto a management programme than a student with A-levels and no store experience. They would start as a deputy brand manager and could be a store manager by the time they’re 21.” Need we go on?

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