The qualified trades – an underestimated local economic force
When people talk about “the commercial sector”, they often mean major, publicly listed company groups. That is a misinterpretation. The outsized majority of all companies are considerably smaller. In spite of their small size, they provide the majority of jobs and apprenticeships/traineeships. So anyone talking about the commercial sector cannot go past the small and medium-sized sector in general and qualified trades firms in particular. The qualified trades form a diverse branch of the German economy, which, with its small structure, also constitutes a core sector of the economy. For industry, private consumers or the public authority, the qualified trades offer a broad, high-quality range of goods and services tailored to individual customer requirements.
The broad range of goods and services can be seen in the number of occupations. A total of 141 occupations are represented among the 15,089 trades firms in the Halle Trades Chamber region. Typical construction industry-based trades such as roofers, masons and carpenters are represented, as are metal processing firms, bakers, cosmeticians and dental technicians. Companies with a high technological component to their work and innovative capacity such as precision engineers, metalworkers or motor vehicle technicians, who are also integrated in a national and international division of labour, stand side-by-side with traditional trades and handicrafts such as bakers, watch-makers and tailors, who are sought after for their creativity and niche market skills in order to compete against industrially made products. Some occupations are found everywhere – others, such as surgical instrument technicians or woodwind instrument makers, are quite unique.
A division of labour can also be seen in the selection of a company location, this time between the various regions in the densely-populated Central German Leipzig-Halle-Dessau area. Companies requiring more space are often based in the regions surrounding larger cities, while those preferring to be closer to their customers tend to be based in urban areas. The potential of the Halle economic region does not become apparent until the Halle Chamber region is seen in its entirety.
The city of Halle and its surrounding area occupy a special position as one of the most important business centres in Germany’s economic history. After the disappearance of the Iron Curtain in 1990, large sections of the industrial sector, which had grown over the decades, proved no longer competitive.
The spread of major manufacturing and services companies in the region is therefore low, which explains why the economic power of the qualified trades is a more crucial factor here than elsewhere. In late 2008, an estimated 8,500 people were employed in 1,767 trades firms in Halle. This figure was added to by some 1,000 apprentices/trainees at all levels. In the entire region covered by the Halle Trades Chamber, 15,089 trades firms employed about 71,000 tradespeople and trained 8,732 apprentices/trainees as at the end of 2008. Every seventh employee and almost every third apprentice/trainee in the Chamber’s region works in the qualified trades.
Trades firms tend to be small, with an average of five people working there. Close personal relationships among the employees and between employees and employers are normal, which has a positive effect on the company’s working climate and job security.
Many trades firms train more apprentices/trainees than they need in order to ensure a supply of the employees they will require in future, including in times of expected staff fluctuation. Internships help familiarize future employees while they are still at school. The trade chambers’ careers advisors maintain close contacts both to firms and schools, provide advice and information and assistance if problems occur. All sectors of the economy benefit from this training work, which actually exceeds requirements.
Trades – competence and quality
The tough competition in the market is a challenge for the trades. Their response is quality, imagination and finding market niches.
Over the last few years, the trades, such as the metal trades and precision engineering, have had a large share in Germany’s positive economic development. The increased requirements of environmentally friendly building, for example in building insulation, require more and more specialist knowledge from the building trades und offer new areas of activity. The many trade firms that work for retail customers, like bakers and hairdressers, stabilize the German economy in the face of the current drop in exports.,
These firms can only compete with well-trained, skilled employees, so for initial vocational training and advanced trades training, the Chamber region provides training centres in four locations: Halle-Osendorf, Stedten, Wittenberg and the dental technician training centre in Halle.
Courses are held there for the wide variety of trades and requirements, ranging from initial trades training through master tradesmens’ courses to building energy advisors or courses for “trainer qualification”. For example, the training centre at the Halle Trades Chamber in Stedten offers courses for those wishing to become building energy advisors. At such courses, trainees learn all about solar heating systems and photovoltaics, heat-pumps and heat recovery; they then pass this knowledge on to customers. On completing such courses, building energy advisors are authorized to issue the legally prescribed energy pass for residential buildings.
Anyone looking for a challenging and interesting job is in good hands as a tradesman or woman and it is expected that a sufficient number of apprenticeships/traineeships will be available over the next few years.
In autumn 2009, the top apprentices and trainees of their year will meet in Halle, which will be the venue for the finale of the German national trades competitions. This event will be an impressive demonstration of the high level of trades training in Germany.
At the annual “open day” at the trades training centres and the Central German Trades Fair in Leipzig, the new recruits will familiarize themselves with the wide range of trades activities; for many of them, it will be a pleasant surprise. For example, trades firms are responsible for implementing the current topics of energy-sav-ing and the use of alternative energies. The Halle hairdressing and cosmetics guild will be demonstrating the latest trends and the creative opportunities in these trades and will combine skilled entertainment, teaching and recruitment.
Dr. Rogahn is a graduate in economics and has been general manager of the Halle Trades Chamber since January 2005. After obtaining his first degree, he obtained a doctorate on the subject of demographics. He was a research assistant at the University of Halle until 1991 and then went to work for the Halle Trades Chamber. In 1996 he assumed the position of a Trades Chamber’s manager.