As ye sew, so shall ye reap
Reinforced-concrete constructor, engine driver, baker – according to media reports, some careers are so unattractive to young people that in some places the number of apprentices has halved. Textile companies and associations also need to get some new ideas if skilled textile jobs are not to become museum pieces.
A list from the German Institute of Professional Training (BBI) showing the training contracts concluded in 2016 reveals the sad state of German textile training: “The list contains 320 career jobs; the top 50 account for 80 percent of all trainees, including sales staff and hairdressers (male and female). The first purely textile job appears at place 180: textile production engineer. It succeeded in attracting only 147 out of more than 511,600 trainees”, says futurologist Thomas Strobel, who has evaluated the list from the textile angle. By comparison: over 28,600 trainees opted for the top scorer: office manager. Stobel, who has managed a number of future-oriented projects with businesses and associations, sees the core problem in the “image of a dying textile industry.”
Reports of death exaggerated
The industry has been stuck with this image ever since structural change, a consequence of globalisation, snapped all threads of production here; textile manufacture followed cheaper production facilities to Asia. Ever since then, as far as public perception goes, spinning and weaving have been at a standstill. But reports of death are exaggerated. Meanwhile the industry has got back on its feet and, along with clothing and home textiles, is producing technical textiles, scoring well with their functional characteristics – and with rising growth rates: according to industry associations, technical textiles already account for 40 to 50 percent of sales revenue. Major buyers include aerospace, the automotive and sports industries, medicine and construction. Not unsexy.
These are also the findings of Nadja Krautter, communication manager at the AMANN Group, a leading manufacturer of sewing and embroidery threads from Baden-Württemberg. “When young people hear the words ‘sewing threads’, they roll their eyes, until we show them all the places where our threads are used: not just in clothing, but in heat-protective suits, cars and aircraft.” At AMANN, she explains, they are making every effort to attract young people into the textile industry. “We work closely with schools and regional associations and are also represented at numerous training fairs”, says Krautter. The aim is to provide trainees with attractive prospects. These include an international orientation to their training – the firm’s production plants in Romania, the Czech Republic and England are now popular “trips” for AMANN’s new recruits. And it’s obviously successful: according to Krautter, nearly 100 percent of trainees remain loyal to the company.
Strengthening commercial and technical career training
All over Germany commercial and technical career training in particular, including textile cutting, apparel tailoring, product finishing and textile cleaning, is frayed not only at the edges. “Since the 1980s the vocational colleges have hardly invested in textile training careers”, says Detlef Braun, project director at the Textile Academy of North Rhine-Westphalia. Until now, he says, there has been a lack of practice teachers, materials and machinery for young recruits to the textile industry. The textile associations and companies of North Rhine-Westphalia, where almost a third of the textile industry’s revenues are earned, is therefore currently expanding the NRW Textile Academy. In future the industry’s commercial and technical training for the whole of north-western Germany will be concentrated in this private vocational college. It is evidently high time. “In the whole of Germany there are only about 20 textile-product testers left”, says Braun.
Similarly frightful are the figures for product designers, Number 294 (of 320) on the BBI list; only six apprentices learned this job in 2016. And that is particularly bad, since it is exactly now that the industry needs some fresh ideas. “Textile products are not what they were 30 years ago; today we speak of aircraft wings, rotor blades on wind turbines, bridges, automotive parts – we need plenty of excellent people for new designs and new ideas”, says Braun. But they would have to know about it first. “Representatives of the industry must work urgently to combat the image of the ‘dying’ textile sector by demonstrating the opportunities of tomorrow which textiles offer, and to tell people more about the wide potential for textiles in the future in various application fields”, declares futurologist Strobel.