In our society, craftsmanship must finally be valued more alongside intellectual work if we want to successfully shape the transformation to more climate protection and sustainability. A letter to us as a society. To them. To me. To all of us.

I hear and read that there is a shortage of workers in the trades everywhere. Trained specialists, but also trainees, are urgently needed. To let the numbers speak: 250,000 young professionals are missing in our trade today and it is difficult to find people who are enthusiastic about it, according to current surveys and studies.

This has immense consequences: on average, it takes 9 weeks before an order can be started in the overall trade. And for work in the construction and expansion sector, the Central Association of German Skilled Trades cites average waiting times of 10 to 15 weeks. Increasing automation and digitization will only partially compensate for the shortage of skilled workers.

Susan J. Moldenhauer has 22 years of professional experience in the financial industry and in sales. At a financial and investment broker, she looks after well-informed clients on an equal footing. At the strategy consultancy Stategy Pirates, she supports people and teams in their professional lives as a financial and career coach. Her topics are: communication, self-marketing, salary and fee negotiations and the right attitude towards money and finances.

Many parents still see the only true future for their offspring in their studies. It is either said that one’s own children “should have it better than we do” or “can have a secure career”. But which career path is safe today? More on that later.

When I talk to teachers, it is almost unanimous that many students are under a lot of pressure. This is built up by the parents, who try with almost every means possible to prepare their children for the Abitur and later for university studies. Lawyers are consulted as soon as the school grades are not correct. After all, one’s own child has a “huge talent” and that must be encouraged. High-school diploma? No question, that’s the minimum.

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Since the “PISA shock” of 2000, in which Germany finished worse than the OECD average, work has been ongoing to improve educational opportunities for everyone and to increase the percentage of high school graduates, which was too low by international standards at the time.

The consequences of this are cohorts with up to 55% high school graduates, overflowing lecture halls at the universities, apart from the recent exceptional situation during the pandemic with online instead of face-to-face events, and increasing student dropout rates. In the STEM subjects in particular, we have dropout rates of 35 to 40 percent in the first three years.

A college dropout, for example, is Fabio, who brought a technical background and a few years of work experience with him when he decided to enroll in college for an engineering degree.

After two semesters he changed departments, only to find out after another 3 semesters: “Studying, that’s not for me.” So he studied 5 semesters without a degree in his pocket. Something suggested to him that his education in the technical field “is not everything”. But he continued without studying.

As a service technician for wind turbine technology, he continuously deepened his skills and abilities and successfully trained new colleagues. Through his further training as a technician for environmental protection technology, he developed into a sought-after contact person for communities, utility companies and companies from the chemical and pharmaceutical industry when it comes to implementing concepts for sustainable environmental protection.

Fabio finds fulfillment in his varied work. He sees them as an important part of the whole. As part of a task for society as a whole that we are faced with as a result of climate change, the modernization of infrastructure and demographic developments.

Fabio is fulfilled and satisfied with his task. The participants in the “Craft Pride” study at the Georg-August University in Göttingen, which surveyed almost 2,000 craftspeople, describe it in a similar way. They all share a high level of satisfaction and passion for their job. The number of female career changers in the trade is currently increasing slightly.

And let’s be honest, even if the apprenticeship years aren’t a walk in the park financially, where is the prospect of becoming your own boss at a young age, building your own company, creating something new, something of value? With 130 professions, the trade offers a wide range of opportunities to realize oneself. But in the general population, and thus in each of us, this does not seem to have arrived.

The number of newly concluded training contracts has been falling continuously since 2007. While in 1992 there were twice as many young people who preferred vocational training to university studies, in 2020 490,000 more people started university studies than 466,000 people started vocational training.

If we are honest with ourselves, then we tend to look at the craft disparagingly, don’t want to get our hands dirty or “work ourselves to pieces”. We rate the clean, administrative work in office spaces, the white collar jobs higher than the blue collar jobs, with their dark, dirty work clothes that give us an image of hard physical work.

The craft looks back on a long tradition. With him, the concept of work, which was still considered inferior in antiquity, was upgraded. Its attractiveness grew in the Middle Ages. Organized into guilds and guilds, it was considered “honorable” to work in the trades. With the onset of industrialization, more and more people are moving to cities to work in factories.

Technical innovations such as the steam engine, spinning and weaving machines change the work processes in the manual sector. With the assembly line, the pace of work is controlled, the manufacture of products is standardized and the work is broken down into the smallest, monotonous and repetitive movements, known as Taylorism.

The devaluation of handicrafts began with the first industrial revolution. There was a separation of mental work and handicraft. From now on, the latter is regarded as a vicarious agent for the business goals conceived and controlled by studied minds.

Industrial mass production stands in contrast to manual work and takes over the scepter in global competition. Ever higher, ever faster, ever further. The mantra of our modern work or production life was born and has persisted to this day as a worthwhile goal of every business model.

Today there seems to be a trend reversal that we don’t fully understand yet. In this fourth industrial revolution, we are experiencing the lightning-fast advancement of digitization towards a globally networked world in which people interact with machines, even merge.

Trend researchers and futurologists still do not agree on whether the digital transformation will replace several hundred thousand jobs with robots or whether a similar number of new jobs will be created. It is assumed that there will be times of transition. And, so the assumption goes, digitization will initially take over the routine intellectual work, which is currently mostly carried out by academics.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is already far superior to lawyers when it comes to analyzing contracts or, for example, beats doctors when diagnosing skin cancer. AI may not be able to replace everyone immediately, but it will make a significant contribution to value creation and support people in their daily work, if we dare to make cautious forecasts.

work will change. And that is the chance to return to the good old craft. Because I dare to doubt that a form of AI will produce a hand-made piece of furniture according to individual wishes. In addition, hands are desperately needed.

Who should modernize our houses with solar systems, heat pumps and energy-efficient conversion measures? Who should build the new living space? Who should implement the requirements for compliance with climate targets? And who is to look after us in old age and in sickness? An AI-controlled care robot or rather a person with empathy, dedication and genuine enthusiasm for their job?”