Everything we do at City & Guilds is driven by our purpose. Today we talk about enabling people to develop the skills which will get them into a job, help them develop on the job and be able to progress to the next job. We also talk about skills being essential for economic well-being for individuals, organisations and economies, but where did all that come from?
You have to go back to the Victorian era in the 1850s: a time of great change with the introduction of new technologies and increasing urbanisation and the recognition that the traditional apprenticeship model of the craft guilds based in London was no longer able to provide the skills the nation needed. Prompted by four-times Prime Minister, William Gladstone and with the support of the Lord Mayor and the Prince of Wales a group of 16 livery companies agreed to establish an organisation that would take up the challenge and in 1878 the City and Guilds of London Institute for the Advancement of Technical Education was founded.
As well as offering examinations in technical subjects this new body established four key physical institutions funded by the generosity of the livery companies: The Central Institution in South Kensington which would become the City & Guilds College and form part of nascent Imperial College; Finsbury Technical College – the forerunner of technical colleges; the South London Technical Art School which would become City & Guilds of London Art School, one of the foremost independent art and conservation schools; and Cordwainers’ College in Bethnal Green which today is a constituent part of UAL.
Royal recognition followed the initial success of this work with the Royal Charter in 1900 cementing a relationship that continues today with the active support of The Princess Royal following over 60 years of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Presidency. In essence, the Charter challenges us to support the development of skills in ‘productive and technical industries’ and underpins our responsibilities as well as the privileges we enjoy which include offering a number of royal awards to both individuals and through the Princess Royal Training Awards to employers.
As a Royal Charter charity we don’t have shareholders to pay dividends to but we do have to make money to make a difference. All our work across the City & Guilds Group supports what the Charter requires of us whether its in skills credentialing, technical and leadership training, the Foundation or any one of our support services. Every individual at City & Guilds, regardless of function or role, is a key part of delivering to our purpose and through the Ampersand Awards we see how appreciated that is by our colleagues. The skills the nation needs may have changed since 1878, but skills continue, and will always continue, to be essential to the economic well-being of individuals, organisations and economies. As we approach our 150th anniversary, City & Guilds is as relevant today as it was when it was founded.