Bernd Ehinger: The trades industry has a future

Anyone who has the opportunity to take a look at the Golden Book of Darmstadt should not miss it. It is not only a historical document but is with its ornate cover a testament to the capabilities of the innovative, creative sector of the econ­omy. The cover also highlights the impor­tance of the skilled trades for the city, because on its four corners are the crests of the arts, industry, peasantry and of the handicrafts. Handicrafts have always been a part of the image of a modern city.

As a strong partner this industry branch is always in demand. Even though the people working in this industry are aware of the longstanding tradition of the handi­craft, for them the future is in the forefront. The employees and entrepreneurs of skilled trades businesses are equipped to face the challenges of tomorrow. This sector holds potential for the region and thus the national image campaign is justi­fied to demonstrate in a humorous way that handicrafts deserve the title the “eco­­­nomic power next door”. With a variety of 120 careers the skilled trades offer appren­tices more prospects than any other sector. These include both traditional careers such as roofer, printer or baker as newer variations such photo-media expert or signs and neon-signs manufacturer. In Darmstadt alone, there are more than 1,300 trade workshops. With their approx­imately 9,000 employees they earn about 810 million euros each year. The largest revenues are recorded by companies in a 100-kilometre sales radius. Thanks to the Rhine-Main metropolitan region und its many contacts, the handicraft trades are well networked nationally. A positive reputation precedes the trades; even inte­rnational delegations inform themselves again and again on the existing chamber system. In short: skilled trades are in demand.

Darmstadt is on the move and has the kind of vitality that outshines many a metro­polis. The city in Southern Hessen is one of the prime examples of the inter­dependence of commerce and science, culture and progress. In the rankings of the German trade press Darmstadt takes a leading position. For the local economic policy this means: retaining the top posi­tion and strengthening sustainability. Lastly the employees and entrepreneurs of the handicraft enterprises contribute to the prosperity of the region.


This also explains why the trades encour­age the different actors from politics, the economy and culture to move closer together. Only together can they achieve the goal to keep the region a leader in the international competition. A first step towards the future has been done. With the local advertising campaign “Wir sind FrankfurtRheinMain” (“We are Frankfurt­­RhineMain”), the leading representatives of the economy stand for the strengthening of the metropolitan region around Frankfurt.

This calls for transparency and the elim­­ination of arbitrariness. It is important especially right now that the know-how of the region is fully exploited. The trade enter­prises would like jobs to remain within the region. With their products and services they represent a solid foundation, which furthers the economic power of Southern Hessen. The companies know that it is worth it to invest in Darmstadt. The favour­able economic structure and the high level of employment speak for themselves.

The Darmstadt handicraft businesses are close to their customers. In the small and medium-sized companies no mass-market goods are produced. The individual com­pany structure guarantees that for masters as well as journeymen quality is of utmost importance as are the customers’ wishes and expectations. The trade structure in Darmstadt is typically urban with emphasis on the service-oriented and services trades. In particular healthcare, personal care and cleaning services are to be found in Darmstadt and indeed much more frequently than in the surrounding cities and counties.
The entrepreneurs know what matters tomorrow. Due to the demo­graphics, new opportunities are offered for older workers. The cooperation between different generations is already excellent. Thus the handicraft trades are a model to other sectors and this is to be expanded.

In the future new fields of work will arise for the handicraft trades, such as housing for the elderly, electronic mobility or energy-efficient building renovations. Al­­ready today tailor-made products and services are offered to the customer. The handicraft businesses are going to continue to contribute valuable integration work with regards to the cooperation of different nationalities within the companies. The success of the dual vocational training system is remarkable. There are excellent career prospects, which also call forth international recognition. The District Chamber of Handicrafts Darmstadt-­Dieburg with its affiliated guilds provides an important contribution and guarantees a consistently high standard. The combi­nation of tradition and innovation, of higher craftsmanship qualification and new techniques speaks for itself – a strength that makes Darmstadt’s handi­craft trades a supporting pillar of the Southern Hessian economy.

In addition to Frankfurt, the Rhine-Main Chamber of Handicrafts has an admin­is­trative office in Darmstadt. Here about 70 employees look after the concerns of local handicraft companies. New entrepre­neurs can enrol at the register of craftsmen, the registry for all owners of companies which require licensing. Furthermore legal and business advice is offered, as well as support for questions concerning technical environmental protection, economic safeguarding and the European domestic market. Ex­­perts give advice as much on starting a career as with transitional ar­­­range­ments and successor establishment. The foreign trade consultancy of the Hessian chambers of handicrafts is, likewise, estab­lished in the Darmstadt headquarters of the Rhine-Main Cham­ber of Handicrafts.

Here the employees attend to craftsmen wishing to expand their activities across the German borders. The enterprises are accompanied from the first idea right up to the actual implementation in the foreign country. The trade fair industry of the Rhine-­­Main Chamber of Handicrafts also helps craftsmen with the organisation of trade fairs. Those who would like to partic­ipate in national and international trade fairs receive consultancy and information, which guarantees a professional trade fair performance. In matters of training and continued education, the Darmstadt handicraft trade is also strong. Far more than 300 young people from Darmstadt alone start in a trade each year. The building and construc­tion trades are particularly sought after by young people, but also the woodworking trade, the metal and electronic industry and healthcare professions. The driving force for jobs for young people from the city and the region is the Southern Hessian annual educational trade fair, which takes place in Darmstadt each year. This provides pupils, parents and teachers with the opportunity to inform themselves about apprenticeships and continued edu­cation in handicrafts. Moreover, in practical workshops youths can try out their technical aptitude.


The fact that the Rhine-Main Chamber of Handicrafts places a high value on con­tinued education in Southern Hessen is shown, not least, in the neighbouring city of Weiterstadt. Here the Rhine-Main Cham­­­ber of Handicrafts supports an in­­dus­­trial training and technology centre, which issued the world’s first master certificates in scaffolding and is a leader in this field. Students come from all over Ger­many for further industry-wide education. The educa­tional establishment has 35 training work­shops, ten teaching halls and three com­puter rooms at its disposal. In total there are 1,100 places, which are equipped with the latest technology.
Vocational training and continued education take place in conjunction with trade associations. This guarantees a high quality standard and technical know-how of the highest level.

Handicraft in Southern Hessen operates in a future-oriented way. The demographic development shows already now that Darmstadt-based enterprises are undergoing a generation change. In the next few years, every fourth business will stand in line for a takeover. Then first-class quali­­fied personnel will be in demand in order to continue what was built up by generations before them. The handing over of a handicraft business to the next generation counts among the most difficult man­agerial tasks. A prudent decision and trust are required. Almost every fourth business is assigned within the family to either a son or a daughter. However, ever more fre­quent­ly it is also outsiders that are sought after for successor establishment. For the younger generation this means: the odds of being self-employed in your own business are better than almost ever before. The master certificate has a first-class reputation world­wide. As a quality seal, it guarantees high performance in handicraft and good prospects for ‘doers’, people who take their future in their own hands. For people who want more than heretofore; namely to move Darmstadt and the region forward.

9951-120Bernd Ehinger, born in 1944, is president of the Hessischer Handwerkstag (a Hessian association for tradespeople) and the Rhine-­­Main Chamber of Handicrafts. In these capacities he represents about 61,500 companies with their 375,000 em­ployees throughout Hessen. In 1967 he earned the master certificate for master electrician. Since 1970 he has been head of the Frankfurt-based company Elektro Ehinger with more than 150 employees.