Handicraft workers use high-level technical skills to apply both traditional and contemporary methods in the design and production of jewellery, pottery, or textiles, along with many other articles.
- Around 1.2 million people were employed as handicraft and printing workers in 2018. Employment in the occupation, following the financial crisis in 2008, fell by 29 per cent between 2006 and 2018.
- Employment is projected to fall by a further 5 per cent over the period 2018 to 2030. This represents decrease of 61 thousand jobs. More than half a million of handicraft and printing workers will be needed to replace workers who will leave their jobs though.
- Over half the workers in the occupation have medium-level qualifications, and this share is expected to remain more or less the same over the period to 2030. The share of low qualified workers is expected to decrease from 29 to 25 per cent, whereas the share of highly qualified workers will grow from 14 to 21 per cent.
- In the workplace, routine, creativity, resolution and autonomy are the most important tasks and skills of handicraft and printing workers.
- The changing nature of employment in the creative sector is likely to heavily impact on those working in handicraft and printing trades, who are likely to focus more on portfolio working, rather than having a full-time job with set hours.
- While many craft trades will remain heavily centred on human input, emerging technologies are increasingly being used to facilitate the design and production processes within this occupational group.
Tasks and skills
Handicraft workers 1 use high-level technical skills to apply both traditional and contemporary methods in the design and production of jewellery, pottery, or textiles, along with many other articles. Expertise is also required to operate specialist equipment in these crafts for shaping glass, ceramics, wood and other materials. Printing trades workers operate specialised equipment to set type prior to printing, configure and operate printing processes, prepare stencils or operate screen-printing equipment.
According to Eurofound's Job Monitor, routine, creativity, resolution and autonomy are the most important tasks and skills of handicraft and printing workers.
Figure 1: Importance of tasks and skills of handicraft and printing workers
Note: The importance of tasks and skills is measured on 0-1 scale, where 0 means least important and 1 means most important.
What are the trends for the future? 2
Employment amongst handicraft and printing workers fell by 29 per cent between 2006 and 2018 resulting in employment falling from 1.7 to 1.2 million. Employment will continue to fall over the medium term but not at such a precipitous rate. Between 2018 and 2030 employment is projected to fall by 5 per cent, but this will still result in the loss of around 61,000 jobs. However, the future of handicraft and printing workers differs across European countries. The decline in employment is expected in 17 European countries, while some growth is still expected in the remaining 11.
Figure 2: Future employment growth of handicraft and printing workers in European countries (2018-2030, in %)
A sizable number of people are expected to leave the occupation between 2018 and 2030. The 607,000 expected to leave the occupation will, in part, need to be replaced. 3. Even though employment is expected to fall, there will still be 546,000 job openings that will need to be filled between 2018 and 2030.
Figure 3: Future job openings of handicraft and printing workers (2018-2030)
With regards to education lever, there is a number of sectors that will still see employment growth in this occupation over the next ten years, which can be attributed to a variety of drivers described below. The decline in employment for handicraft and printing workers will be felt in a number of different sectors. Of the five largest, in terms of employment, it is forecasted that four will see a significant reduction in the number of staff: wood, paper, print and publishing, rubber/non-metal and mineral products, other manufacturing 4 and wholesale and retail.
Over time the qualifications profile of the sector has been increasing. In 2018, 29 per cent of handicraft and print workers had a low level of qualification and this is projected to fall to 25 per cent by 2030. The percentage of those with medium level qualifications will remain more or less unchanged with 57 per cent being qualified at this level in 2018 and 55 per cent in 2030. The share of the workforce accounted by those with high level qualifications is expected to increase from 14 per cent in 2018 to 21 per cent in 2030. The change in the qualifications profile of the occupation can be attributed to the growing complexity and diversity of both developing production techniques, new forms of employment and different business management techniques.
More information on employment trends for this occupation can be found on the Skills Panorama, here.
Which drivers of change will affect their skills?
- The changing nature of employment in the creative sector is likely to heavily impact on those working in handicraft and printing trades, who are likely to focus more on portfolio working, rather than having a full-time job with set hours. In order to manage part-time jobs, short-term contracts and periods of self-employment, it is crucial that those working in these occupations have an array of enabling soft skills, such as self-motivation, time-management, self-reliance and an ability to work and learn independently. Entrepreneurial skills are also important for such occupations: an ability to market oneself, communicate and collaborate with others, and focus on ‘job creation’, rather than ‘job seeking’ 5.
- While many craft trades will remain heavily centred on human input, emerging technologies are increasingly being used to facilitate the design and production processes within this occupational group. Relevant to handicraft workers, examples of these technologies include computer-aided design software and metal cutting devices 6 7. While evolving technical skills are important in enabling craft producers to integrate these new methods into their practice, other increasingly prevalent business practices driven by technology, such as e-commerce, will also require high levels of adaptability and business acumen, especially given the move towards portfolio working and self-employment 8. As for printing workers, 3D printing is far more than another technological advancement. With applications relevant to a wide range of sectors (manufacturing, health equipment etc.), mastering 3D printing devices and processes will be an indispensable set of skills for workers in relevant sectors and industries.
- The growing use of social media provides handicraft workers with a valuable tool with which to market products, network with other businesses and interact with customers regarding product design, development and general performance feedback 9. Holding the skills that will enable craft workers to fully optimise their use of social media will be vital: negotiating resolutions with customers regarding issues and complaints; interpreting input provided by customers on potential product development; and creating distinctive marketing campaigns in an extremely competitive environment 10.
- Environmental sustainability is becoming a higher priority for many consumers across the EU, who are increasingly aware of the impacts of their own consumption practices. An increasing number of workers in craft trades are adopting similar values, like strong awareness of sustainable and locally sourced materials, “fair trade” approach as well as more sustainable production processes that minimise resource use and even recycle materials as much as possible. Being able to employ these practices into branding strategies will also be important, so to appeal to the growing pool of consumers 11.
- The rapidly evolving needs of consumers and businesses for more bespoke and individualised products mean that employees in handicraft professions must have the appropriate skills to remain flexible in changing environments. Many larger manufacturing companies may continue to look to craft trade businesses and workers to meet these changing needs by collaborating on one-off items, or working in partnership to boost brand image. Workers must possess the flexibility and positive risk taking mentality required, to effectively capitalise on these new opportunities. Cross-disciplinary competences are also important, which must be substantiated by a wider understanding of business-to-business operations. Furthermore, a proficiency in mathematics and literacy is critical to managing effective links with other businesses, along with a strong ability to process new information and integrate it into handicraft workers’ own practices 12.
- Regulatory changes that are made in response to changing market conditions, which include intellectual property rights and taxation, are likely to create a greater demand for sector-specific regulatory expertise, so that workers can comply with shifting rules and capitalise on any new opportunities 14.
Risk of automation: As a part of its Digitalisation and future of work project, Cedefop estimates the risks of automation for occupations. The most exposed occupations are those with significant share of tasks that can be automated – operation of specialised technical equipment, routine or non-autonomous tasks – and those with a small reliance on communication, collaboration, critical thinking and customer-serving skills. The risk of automation is further accentuated in occupations where employees report little access to professional training that could help them to cope with labour market changes. Handicraft and printing workers are reportedly an occupation with very high risk of automation.
How can these skill needs be met?
Directing people towards online training courses can be extremely useful in promoting skills in business, social media management and technology, including e-commerce. ‘Anytime-anywhere’ learning allows people to engage with courses when their busy schedules allow. In-work training and internships/apprenticeships can also provide a valuable opportunity for less experienced workers in this occupational group to learn new skills and enhance their portfolio.
Several of sub-occupations pertinent to handicraft and printing workers call for creativity skills. Such skills can also be developed through training opportunities and preferably at young age. Partnership schemes have proven successful in encouraging children to develop their creative skills and demonstrating some of the potential career prospects in different sectors: for example, the Creative Partnerships programme in the UK 15, where professionals from the creative industries would visit schools, provide lessons and set challenging tasks for pupils to utilise their creativity, which would in turn help in developing other important soft skills including flexibility and problem solving). The “Kulturagenten für Kreative Schulen” programme in Germany 16 is another inspiring example, where artists work in schools and build relationships between schools and cultural institutions.
All web-links were last accessed February 7th, 2020.
 Defined as ILO ISCO 08 group 73_Handicraft and printing workers occupations. ILO (2012) International Standard Classification of Occupations ISCO-08. More information on the occupation can be found here.
 2016 Cedefop forecast.
 The need to replace workers leaving a profession for various reasons, such as retirement. For more information on replacement demand and how it drives employment across sectors, can be found on the Skills Panorama: /en/analytical_highligths/focus-replacement-demand-driving-millions-job-openings-across-eu
 Under this sub-sector, the forecast covers manufacturing of furniture, jewellery, toys, musical instruments, medical and dental instruments and protective equipment.
UNESCO-UNEVOC 2015, Skills for the creative industries, Report of the UNESCO-UNEVOC virtual conference, 29 September to 10 October 2014.
 European Commission 2016, European Policy Brief,”Renewal, innovation & change: heritage and European society” (RICHES), Towards a craft revival: Recalibrating Social, Cultural, Economic and Technological Dynamics.
European Commission 2016, Renewal, innovation & change: heritage and European society (RICHES), D5.1 The use of craft skills in new contexts.
 Brown, J, 2014, Making it local: What does this mean in the context of contemporary craft?, Crafts Council.
 UK Commission for Employment and Skills 2015, Sector insights: skills and performance challenges in the digital and creative sector.
 Brown, J, 2014, Making it local: What does this mean in the context of contemporary craft?, Crafts Council.
 European Commission 2016, Renewal, innovation & change: heritage and European society (RICHES), D5.1 The use of craft skills in new contexts and UNESCO-UNEVOC 2015, Skills for the creative industries, Report of the UNESCO-UNEVOC virtual conference, 29 September to 10 October 2014.
 FME 2014, Smart industry Dutch industry fit for the future.
 UK Commission for Employment and Skills 2015, Sector insights: skills and performance challenges in the digital and creative sector