In the minds of most people, craft is synonymous with tradition, although craft has always been and remains to be an innovative affair. Here, two terms collide that apparently contradict each another, but actually perfectly harmonize. Although craft also stands for tradition in the sense of techniques that are handed down from generation to generation and grown know-how, for experience and quality, innovations have always played a central role through the centuries. Craft has always continued to develop its techniques and products further. This counts through to this day.
Innovations in craft are wide and varied; whether new procedures, products or creative services, the target is always one of higher quality.
As clients today take this for granted, they do not always recognize the work that it involveds. Yet it is precisely the craftman who again and again offers exact solutions for every problem and is thus innovative. This is often grossly misjudged.
It must once again be made clear that craftman are highly qualified specialists. That is definitely not easy. But precisely for this reason, German craft has begun a nationwide image campaign that clears up partially deeply anchored prejudices. Against popular belief, craft offers a variety of occupations with future-oriented perspectives, such as, for example, environmentally friendly crafts, which are currently much sought after. Adding to this are attractive work positions and solid training, which opens many career opportunities and also allows for university education. To communicate these positive aspects is one of the central duties of the Handwerkskammer des Saarlandes (HWK – Chamber of Crafts).
Craft is innovative in all trades. One may wish to think of high-tech fields here, but that does not do justice to the theme.
Today, the market not only demands every field to adapt to market conditions, but to actively help shape them. Here, the demanding user plays a large role. He knows what he wants and expects, for example, from the baker next door that he always has something new to offer in his selection of products. This expectation again and again encourages the craftman to innovations, if he is not to lose his customers. The development of the past few years indicates an explosion in creative ideas that serves only one purpose: to fulfil the expectations and wishes of users.
The future of crafts
I do not fear for the future of craft, as specialists wall always be needed for the great variety of problems that must be solved. My confidence is also rooted in the great ability for craft to adapt. Many traditional occupations have fundamentally changed throughout the course of the centuries. Here, I am thinking, for example, of the occupations in electronics or IT. But also a heating engineer has today developed into a heating and climate specialist. This ability for craft to adapt has always secured its survival. Yet, many people – mostly youths – have in their search for an ideal job formed a false picture of craft.
A questionnaire by the ZDH shows that many craft occupations are no longer even categorized by them as craft. This should be revised by the image campaign. Many activities of the HWK are also targeting this. Among other things, we visit schools in order to bring craft close to young people or host teacher information days in order to sensitize this target group to crafts.
In order to allow youths and their parents to gain a view into the different craft occupations, the Aktionstag des Handwerks (the action day of the craftman) was founded jointly with the guilds in 2008. Added to this is a number of further events that serve the career orientation of young people.
The prerequisite for approaching craft as an innovative, attractive and also stable economic branch is of course an optimally trained workforce.
The standard of training in craft is extremely high nowadays and Germany is envied throughout the world for its dual education system that combines practical training in a company with the theoretical education of a training school.
In Saarland, craft offers an extensive offering of inter-company vocational training institutes with a surface area of around 30,000 square metres and approximately 1,200 workshop areas.
In addition to this, there are 1,100 theoretical places and 120 border-school places for vocational training. We are currently further developing the Centre of Competence (KomZets) in the HWK in order to also in the future be able to ensure the bestpossible standard of training for craft companies. At the same time, they function as communication centres, as they pass on technical improvements on their part to companies through the shortest means.
To a lesser degree, attractive and highly innovative further education seminars are offered in craft training institutes (GTZ, Saarländische Meister- und Technikerschule, Akademie des Handwerks and training institutes of the specialized guilds).
They do not leave any question open, always being at the height of time in specialised questions. Whether modern management, the latest technologies and process engineering or current developments in the environmental sector, the craft education network stands for qualified and innovative skilled workers – supported by the HWK.
Particularly worth mentioning in this regard is also the HWK advice centre for technology and innovation which was established for companies as an interface to technology centres such as the University of Applied Sciences (Hochschule für Technik und Wissenschaft – HTW).
The HWK assumes that mechanization will develop further also in the field of crafts over the coming decades. Just in the e-careers, a revolution is foreseen regarding communication technology and house automation. The traditional picture wall change in many career fields and craft shall prove itself through new demands as flexibly and innovatively capable. As one assumes that the complexity of many craft works wall increase, craft in itself wall also gain recognition.
Hans-Alois Kirf is the president of the Handwerkskammer des Saarlandes (HWK). He has been a freelance master baker in the city of Saarlouis since 1975 and was elected into the HWK-plenum in 1999 and as the president of the chamber in 2004. Kirf has earned particular recognition for international co-operation in the SaarLorLux region and was confirmed into the position of HWK president in 2009.