KANBrief 1/21

An appeal from the skilled crafts sector to the standardization community

Transparent, practical, with greater participation

Germany has around a million skilled craft businesses in over 130 different trades. Their value chains cover numerous products with technology ranging from the simple to the highly complex, and the associated services. In each of these, the state of the art is described in standards. These standards must be of high quality, and in particular must be geared to the specific needs of the crafts sector (ZDH position paper in German).

Forward-thinking standardization: what’s important?

In the view of the German Confederation of Skilled Crafts (ZDH), it is crucial that standardization activity be made more transparent at all levels and that more opportunities for participation in this activity be created. The European Commission must shape its procedures for the preparation of standardization mandates or delegated acts concerning standardization in such a way that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are also able to participate on an adequate scale.

Delegates from the crafts sector are often significantly under-represented on national, European and international standards committees. The ZDH is therefore calling on the German Government and the European Commission to ensure and support the effective participation of SMEs in standardization activity, as is set out in the Regulation on European Standardization (EU) 1025/2012. At European level, these businesses are already represented by Small Business Standards (SBS). This approach is important, but should be expanded sustainably in view of the great number of current and anticipated standardization projects. The last thing that is needed at this time are funding cuts.

The standardization work itself should also be organized in a way that takes greater account of the situation of SMEs. Since SMEs and their delegates cannot regularly leave their workplaces, greater use must be made of the available digital channels of communication, even once the Corona pandemic is over, in order to permit remote participation in standardization activity.

Standards in practice in the skilled crafts sector

Over the years, subject-specific standards have become increasingly complex. The standard governing façades, for example, has grown from 40 to 170 pages in the space of ten years. The number of European and international standards has also been growing steadily, as has the number of generic standards, particularly in recent years. The latter govern aspects such as machine safety, product safety, ergonomics or accessibility, but not with respect to a specific product. This makes them much more difficult for the skilled crafts sector to identify and implement than product standards. What is needed here is for an efficient standards monitoring system to be created which would provide SMEs with a swift overview of the standards and standardization projects relevant to them.

Standards must be based on generally acknowledged good practice. Far too often however, the progress of research is taken as the benchmark. This leads to standards becoming increasingly difficult to apply in practice. Information that in the past could be read off in tables must now often be determined by the standards users themselves using multifactorial reference methods and calculations. This is difficult to implement in a skilled crafts environment.

Furthermore, product standards are increasingly being duplicated, particularly by European service standards. Two standards may then have to be considered and applied. In many cases, these service standards are in conflict with the experience and knowledge acquired by a master crafts­person in Germany during their training. This duplication must be avoided at all costs in the future.

The performance of certain procedures should not be tied to particular qualifications laid down in standards, as has been attempted in renovation, for example. The ZDH also considers procedural standards for the awarding of contracts to be superfluous, since this area is clearly regulated in Germany.

Standards and the standardization process must be transparent, comprehensible, easily accessible and practical. As part of our standardization strategy, we are lobbying for these principles once again to be firmly established.

Holger Schwannecke
Secretary-General of the German Confederation of Skilled Crafts