Craft professions: at the heart of “custom-made” among manual skills, versatility and technologies

The analysis intertwines the size structure and dynamics of craft enterprises in the provinces of Treviso and Belluno (Infocamere data) and the labour demand generated (Veneto Lavoro data).

Economy - published on 05 September 2023

Source: Study and statistics office of the Chamber of Commerce of Treviso Belluno|Dolomites

The comment of President Mario Pozza
In this report, our Studies office, in collaboration with Veneto Lavoro, interweaves data on the dimensional structure and dynamics of artisan enterprises with their demand for ‘trades’, highlighting how behind the numbers there is a living reality in profound transformation – comments the President of the Treviso-Belluno|Dolomiti Chamber of Commerce, Mario Pozza.

It is true that between 2018 and 2022 the total number of artisan enterprises fell by over 400 in Treviso and 330 in Belluno,’ Pozza continues, ‘but the most structured size class, which is the one that generates the greatest employment flows, is holding up.
Almost 15,000 people were hired in 2022 by artisan companies in Treviso and about 3,300 in the province of Belluno. These are important numbers, representing about 10% of employment flows in both provinces.
Which professional figures are mostly absorbed in these craft trades? The ‘trades’ certainly prevail, but I would immediately draw attention to the fact that the names of these trades (‘blacksmiths’, ‘maintenance workers’, and so on) do not do justice to the transformations they have undergone. Today, a metalworker mainly adopts digital 4.0 and 5.0 systems, we talk about predictive maintenance, car repairers are confronted with sophisticated electronic diagnostics and the electric mobility ‘revolution’, a carpenter cuts materials using high-precision computerised laser tools.
Another thing I would like to say,’ adds Pozza, ‘in response to the too-easy polemics of these days on wages. In small innovative companies, young people can experience richer and more ‘horizontal’ roles than in companies with more structured organisation charts. I highlight this aspect because interesting opportunities for motivation and career advancement can arise.

With this contribution, and thanks to the collaboration with Veneto Lavoro, we intend to consider the demand of trades generated by craft firms in the provinces of Treviso and Belluno. The starting data is the following: the almost 22,700 craft firms in Treviso province, counted at the end of 2022, activated almost 15,000 employment contracts; the over 4,600 craft firms in Belluno activated 3,300. Important numbers that represent about 10% of employment flows in the respective provinces. But it is immediately important to add the following two considerations: a) despite the contraction of the craftwork base, these employment flows remain rather stable in the five years considered here; b) by force of circumstance, these flows are more and more generated by the most structured segment of craftwork enterprises, the one with more than 6 employees, which is also the segment that suffers less the contraction of the number of enterprises (it even grows in Treviso) compared to the general trend of the sector.

Some numbers help to better understand these statements. Hiring generated in 2022 by craft enterprises in Treviso, as we said, amounted to 14,875 employees. Five years ago, with the same field of observation (i.e. considering the same craft enterprises active in the period) the volume of hirings was not very different, amounting to 14,355 employee work units. In the meantime, over the same period, the artisan base shrunk by 404 enterprises: but it was mainly the 2-5 employee size class that lost out (-571 enterprises), while the 6 and over employee size class grew by +44 enterprises, and the one-employee artisan class grew by +133 enterprises (a category that is obviously a different story in terms of employment contracts, and in two out of three cases belongs to the construction and plant engineering world).

In Belluno things are somewhat different, but not in the basic substance. Recruitment generated in 2022 by craft enterprises amounted to 3,310 employees; five years earlier it was a little more (3,585), but the order of magnitude can be said to remain the same, against a contraction in the craft base of 330 enterprises, extended to almost all size classes. The exception, however, is the 10-employee class and above: the most dimensionally structured enterprises grew by 17 units in the five years considered.

In this framework, it becomes interesting to analyse the employment flows generated by the artisan world: a world that certainly requires, in prevalence, ‘trades’ (under the usual and reductive taxonomy of specialised workers and plant operators) but which also experiences the transformations of these trades (in manufacturing, construction and services) due to the effect of new collaborative man-machine technologies, new forms of customer relations, and greater attention to environmental sustainability. All this, without ever forgetting the essence of the artisan dimension, the ‘custom-made’, whether it be tailoring robotics, beauty care services, rather than wine and food or woodwork restoration.

The professional profiles required by artisan companies
This unprecedented combination of trades, technologies and ‘custom made’ logics must absolutely be kept in mind when going into the details of the almost 7,000 specialised workers hired by craft firms in Treviso and Belluno in 2022: 5,470 in Treviso, equal to 37% of the total recruitment in craft firms; 1,495 in Belluno, equal to 45% of the total recruitment in craft firms, according to Veneto Lavoro data.
Almost 1. 700 of these hirings concern, in the two provinces, workers specialised in “Made in Italy” processing: carpenters and furniture fitters, workers specialised in food processing (which in artisan declination are mainly “confectioners”, “ice cream makers”, “bakers”, “cheese processors”), fashion system workers (over 750, almost all in the Treviso area): mainly garment and footwear makers, but also tailors, knitters, weavers, upholsterers of armchairs and sofas, dye-workers.

Another important segment of specialised workers (over 1,700 in the two provinces) concerns metalworkers. Among these we find “blacksmiths“, a term that is now really inadequate and actually hides the toolmakers at numerical control lathes, “behemoths” that ensure those well-known three dimensions of variety, variability and speed of mechanical processing, around which companies, including craft ones, have built their competitive advantage. They have even managed to position themselves in extremely sophisticated and innovative markets such as aerospace components. Imagine what production skills these “toolmakers” must have, in close contact with the designers.
The same applies to “maintance technician“. The example gets boring by now because of how many times we repeat it, especially in career guidance contexts: but it is worth saying it once more, at this time of the restart of the school year. Gone is the maintenance man in the blue overalls, soiled with oil, who runs around companies every time there is a breakdown and damage in progress. Today, the maintenance technician, tablet in hand, who does predictive diagnostics, who orders the replacement of a part before a fault occurs, is becoming more and more common. He is a strategic interconnection figure with quality control and production scheduling. He must have mechanical and electronic skills (a lot of sensor technology and augmented reality systems are used) and be familiar with predictive statistical models. Is it still called a skilled worker? You name it. Moreover, these are the professional building blocks that give substance to the much abused concept of ‘resilience’, that allow companies – to play with words a little – to be always ‘on the ball’, to minimise downtime.

The same considerations can also be transferred to “car repairers“, another group affected by a profound transformation in skills, first with the development of electronics on board cars (and therefore in the workshop), today with the progressive advance of electric mobility (and battery management).

Another important segment of metalworkers concerns “installers and assemblers“, to be understood in two meanings: metalworkers of metal carpentry and installers and assemblers of industrial machinery. In both cases, with service implications at the customers where the carpentry structure or machinery is to be installed (often, even abroad). This broadens the spectrum of skills required of these figures: not only mechanics and electronics, but also interpersonal skills (with the customer, with the customer’s workforce for appropriate training) and knowledge of languages.
In the Belluno area, in the area of metalworkers, over 240 recruitments were generated by artisan eyewear companies.

Finally, Treviso building industry absorbed, again in 2022, over 1,900 specialised workers in the province of Treviso and over 550 workers in Belluno, certainly in the wake of the various bonuses that have (all too) supported demand in the sector. But what matters here is the detailed view of the professions in demand, as it is possible to do thanks to Veneto Lavoro’s rich database. Because from this detail it can be understood that not everything ends in demand for bricklayers. Typical construction site figures (bricklayers, assemblers of prefabricated structures, carpenters, scaffolders) absorb 35-40% of the demand for construction workers formulated by craft firms (Belluno is at the top end of the range). The share of recruitments for building finishing workers remains more relevant: plumbers and electricians first and foremost (increasingly interconnected figures due to integrated home automation and renewable energy systems), and a large group of professions such as painters and plasterers, floor waterproofers, window and door fitters, carpenters and floor layers. In Treviso, the number of building finishers employed in 2022 by artisan companies was around 900; in Belluno there were 250. All this, net of self-employment processes, typically in single-employer companies, very widespread – as already mentioned – in the building industry.

Statistically relevant, in the framework of the considerations we are making on the labour demand expressed by craft firms, is also the professional group of plant operators: 440 recruitments in Belluno, almost 2,300 in Treviso (13-15% of the total). In this group we find, for the most part, assemblers and wirers of electrical and electronic equipment (in modern parlance: mechatronics), assembly and packaging workers, and machinery operators for the various manufacturing sectors. Production figures, certainly, but all characterised by an increasing complexity in the interaction with industrial automation systems, moreover adapted to the production needs of an artisan company, and where therefore the contribution ‘on board the machine’ is in the (increasingly frequent) settings, in quality control, in production data entry at the end of the day.

Technical and clerical figures account for 23-25% of the recruitment by craft firms in the two provinces. In 2022 there were 840 in Belluno: mainly (almost one recruitment out of two) related to qualified professions in services (commerce, catering, beauty care operators), partly related to classic clerical figures (secretarial clerks, administrative workers), partly technical (in engineering, eyewear technicians, specialists in relations with markets, socio-cultural-recreational services technicians, these are the most significant recurrences for the province of Belluno.
In the province of Treviso, there were 3,370 hirings of technicians and clerks in artisan companies: of these, 1,600 were in qualified professions in services, mainly restaurant workers (over 700), beauty care operators (470), and shop assistants in commerce (330). A further 935 recruitments were in the clerical professions.

Finally, as for technicians, the more substantial data relative to the province of Treviso allows us to appreciate a rich declination, in artisan terms, of this professional group: on the one hand, as in industry, commercial technicians and engineering technicians stand out among the main recurrences (the latter both in the sense of designers and production management technicians, a very interesting aspect in the artisan sphere if we associate it with the theme of supply chain interconnections with the management of clients). Then figures emerge such as: programming technicians and application experts, audio-video technicians, construction site management technicians, food preparation technicians.

Read more data on the complete press release.


Translated by Cecilia Flaccavento
Intern at the Chamber of Commerce of Treviso – Belluno|Dolomites

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