Economy and Social Matters in Germany – Panorama

Crafts – an economic powerhouse works on its image

Slaters roofing a tile roof (Photo: © dpa)

We all know of prejudices and stereotypes about skilled crafts and trades. But few people realize how dependent we are on the “economic powerhouse next door”. By means of self-assured films and slogans, crafts are polishing up their image.

Delivered into the hands of the low-brow

Handymen, so gripes anyone who has been kept waiting by a plumber, are unpunctual and expensive. The reputation of the craftsman over the course of time has rarely been the best. In antiquity the téchnai banausikaí, the designation to which we owe today’s word for low-brow or philistine, already had to grapple with prejudices. He sits the whole day in a closed room, wearing down his body, which is consequently not longer fit for military service. Today the prejudices are almost reversed, but they persist. Presumably it is the helplessness of the academic confronted by a blocked drain that makes the gap between the craftsman and the theoretician seems so wide.Perhaps there is also an element of envy, envy of the baker who has baked the other’s bread; envy of the boat builder who has perhaps carpentered a teak deck and can watch as his work puts out to sea.

Between romanticizing and ignorance

The satisfied craftsman is a romanticized cliché as much as the unpunctual carpenter. At bottom it is amazing that these stereotypes hold up at all. There are about 130 various occupations in crafts. The goldsmith has as little in common with the roofer as he has with the literary agent. Many occupations in crafts are quite unknown to the public or are not seen as belonging to crafts. As craftsmen, we think of carpenters and plumbers but probably not surgical technicians, or shutters and sunshade mechatronic technicians. The image campaign of the German Confederation of Skilled Crafts addresses this widespread ignorance.

Changing occupations

“Craftsmen are always in the top batch in polls when it comes to the most respected occupational groups in Germany”, says Alexander Legowski, press spokesman for the German Confederation of Skilled Crafts. At the same time, many young people regard occupations in crafts as old-fashioned, as a 2009 study showed. “This view is now changing”, explains Legowski. Slogans such as “In the beginning was heaven and earth. The rest we made” and “Hand axe, steam engine, nanotechnology. To be continued.” are designed to raise young people’s awareness that crafts occupations are constantly developing. In many fields, craftsmen have long been high-tech specialists. And not only that: crafts can escape economic conditions as little as they can technological progress.

Marketing is part of the everyday life of crafts and the sales channels of the “economic power house next door” are also continually evolving. A Berlin blutwurst factory, for example, sells its specialties not only “next door” but also in the entire world via its online shop. In general, German crafts have an excellent reputation worldwide. “The dual training at occupational schools and in actual practice develops very high occupational skills”, says Legowski. “Asian experts put it in a nutshell when they say: We have the engineers and the workers. What we lack are the craftsmen who can understand the engineers and their plans and who can supervise the workers.” Thus German craftsmen are in demand throughout the world, as suppliers of the most advanced machines or as entrepreneurs of bakeries or butcheries.

Crafts are my life

Another image campaign of the Confederation, “Crafts Are My Life”, shows that crafts can not only mobilize themselves but also make their practitioners’ lives happy ones. In the spots, young people tell of the various sides of their crafts. The stonemason Johanna Zoicas sought an occupation in which she could both come to grips with things and work creatively. Today she spends her day with stone blocks. “To make something beautiful out of something massive, which then lasts an eternity – that’s great.”

Zoicas passed her journeyman’s examination with flying colors with one of the best results in Germany and was hired by the business where she trained. Eventually she would like to add a master craftsman’s credentials to her qualifications and become her own boss. She has found her calling. She cuts, welds, blasts and models filigree patterns into granite blocks. At the end of her workday she gazes with satisfaction at grave stones and sculptures. A nice side effect of her work: when she has to let off steam, she can always find an occasion. “Everyone has bad moods. Then nothing beats hewing a stone.”

Facts and Figures
There are about 1 million businesses in the register of craft businesses and in the list of craft-related businesses. About 5.15 million people work in crafts, and crafts train about 417,000 apprentices. Thus crafts account for 12.5 percent of the German labor force and 28.3 percent of all apprentices in Germany. In 2011, the turnover in crafts was about 497 billion euros.
Carola Dorner
is a freelance journalist. She lives in Berlin and writes about special professions.

Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
August 2012

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