The benefit of training in unusual occupations

Glass blower, wood turner or bow maker – there are still very few trainees in some occupations, particularly in the craft trades. But is not the case that these occupations will soon disappear anyway? And should we not be looking elsewhere for training?

To start with, these occupations are not dying out, they are just less common, clarifies Monika Hackel from the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB). It is more often the case that occupations overtaken by technology become part of new occupations. For example, the work of the typesetter and flexographer, part of the craft trade of printer, are incorporated within the "Designers of digital and print media work" training occupation.

Traditional knowledge in new occupations

Old craft trade knowledge is being combined with new media and formats, and is not simply being lost. The name of the occupations, explains the expert, is often retained while the occupations themselves and the associated training are continually developing. Stonemason and carpenter are examples of these.

BIBB monitors dual vocational education and training in Germany and, where necessary, updates or revises training content in cooperation with social partners. Monika Hackel explains that the entire removal of a training occupation is very rare.

Understanding the variety of training occupations

While most of us have already heard of the occupational field of media design, there are often many smaller, unusual occupations, the names of which we often do not even know. "We tend to rarely come across the unusual craft trades on a day-to-day basis, but our lives would be unimaginable without them, for example brush makers or musical instrument makers," explains Volker Born, vocational education and training (VET) expert at the German Central Association of Skilled Trades (ZDH) in Berlin. Some initiative and research are therefore also needed to even find out about these less familiar occupations.

Our own surroundings can also be critical, as shown by the example of Franco Adamo who works as a chaser. Having not managed to find a job as a technical draughtsman, his father encouraged him to try becoming a chaser. In a similar way to stonemasons, chasers work with a chisel or a file - they cast in bronze and work on surfaces to produce emblems and sculptures.

A passion for art and architecture in organ building

By contrast, for Judith Macherey it was a year spent volunteering in the cultural sector (known in Germany as the "FSJ Kultur") in the area of monument preservation which proved decisive. This brought her to the workshop of Klais - an organ building business in Bonn. The upper secondary school leaver was then able to apply her passion for art and architecture in working with organs.

Following the voluntary year, she began training as an organ builder and is currently working towards her final examination. She does not believe that this unusual occupation will die out. Franco Adamo, who has now been working for 40 years as a chaser, is not at all concerned that his occupation is threatened by technological process. "There's no 3D printer which can just produce a cast relief, and breathe life into a figurine."

Specialists in this niche are even in demand internationally

For Judith Macherey, producing organ parts from a 3D printer is in the realm of make-believe. "Each organ is a unique item and is made to suit the space concerned and its acoustics. It would not at all be possible to mass produce this. I imagine that sound from the body an organ produced just by machine would certainly not be very nice." Adamo says that “modern machines like a CNC milling machine are a great addition to the craft trade."

It often takes a particular type of courage to opt for one of the unusual occupations. A change of location is often needed to find a training company or an appropriate vocational school. And because there are usually only a few companies in these specialist areas, you may need to venture into self-employment after the training.

However, if you go about it with passion you can also use your own niche position as a unique selling point and sometimes there may even be international demand for this. "An organ stays where it is, you have to go to the organ in order to repair it," says Judith.

Better to have trained in something unusual than nothing at all

Even if it turns out that you cannot practise the occupation you trained in for the rest of your life, it is good to have completed training for a profession, emphasises Monika Hackel. "On average, the risk of long-term unemployment with completed training is four times lower than without a qualification."

In the end, you are gaining vocational experience from the training and you also gain lots of important skills which apply to all occupations. You can build on this with further qualifications or additional qualifications. Essentially, it is better to have trained in something unusual than nothing at all. "Training as a decorative metalworker specialising in chased work gives you a foundation, and you could then, for example, study architecture or design," explains Adamo,

In addition, the themes of culture and tradition also have a role to play when training in the less common occupations. Some experiences and cultural techniques cannot be (or only adequately) recorded in writing. They can therefore only be preserved by passing on how they are actually used from generation to generation - from master craftsmen to journeyman," says Vokler Born.

Source: (website of the German newspaper Handelsblatt), revised by iMOVE, March 2021