"Standards must not place skilled craft businesses at a disadvantage"
Together with KAN, the German Confederation of Skilled Crafts (ZDH) hosted an event on the subject of standardization for skilled craft businesses and medium-sized companies and the challenges of digitalization. The event addressed opportunities and challenges in standardization work. Karl-Sebastian Schulte, CEO of the ZDH, describes the current hot topics.
What do standards mean for the skilled crafts sector? Are they a necessary evil, or a useful tool?
Primarily a useful tool, because technical standards save time and money, facilitate cooperation and provide legal security. Where questions of liability arise, they demonstrate whether companies have met their duty of care. It is important that skilled craft businesses, which meet custom orders, are not placed at a disadvantage by standards.
Standards should strengthen competition. In your view, how well are they actually doing this?
It happens that larger industrial companies, in particular, gain a competitive advantage by deliberately creating standards that only they meet. This is an obstacle to competition. When all stakeholders are involved in standardization activity on an equal footing, the resulting standards are fair. The skilled crafts sector is at a structural disadvantage: the average business in the sector employs between five and ten people and does not have the resources to contribute to standardization activity.
How does the ZDH represent the skilled crafts sector in standardization?
We lobby for more support by raising the problems with political representatives, and represent the craft businesses' interests on committees responsible for standards policy. Close coordination with our national confederations of skilled crafts, which perform the standardization work in their respective spheres, is important to us.
Standards are increasingly being developed at international level. What effect is this having on your work?
The barriers to contributing to the standardization process are raised. Travel costs and language barriers increase, for example. We have succeeded in having the European Commission set up a body that supports small and medium-sized business, SBS (Small Business Standards). I would like to see something similar at national level as well. This would be to everyone's benefit, since representatives from small and medium-sized businesses always have an eye on standards' suitability for application in practice.
How suitable are standards for application in practice by the skilled crafts sector?
The cost and labour overhead is decisive. Does a skilled craftsman have to read through 500 pages, or does a search engine or app assist him in finding standards and updates? Digital tools can help, and thankfully, progress is being made here. In addition, standards to which reference is made in legislation should be available free of charge, as is the case in Austria.
How digital is the skilled crafts sector already?
Now that smartphones have become ubiquitous, it should be clear to everyone that digitalization is life-changing. The ways in which businesses make use of new technologies is as diverse as the skilled crafts sector itself. We are aiming to raise awareness with our centre of competence for a digital skilled crafts sector. Our motto is: “Transformation rather than disruption”. Our aim is for value chains to be retained, or new ones to be created.
What threats does digitalization pose to the skilled crafts sector?
We are not seeing entire occupations being wiped out by rationalization. Tasks change, and skills must change with them. This is nothing new; job profiles are continually being modernized. What is crucial is that policymakers also apply fair rules for competition to digital markets, for example with regard to the use of data.
3D printing, robotics, smart PPE: the practical usefulness of many new developments is not yet clear. How should the skilled crafts sector address this?
We are witnessing exciting developments from which occupational safety and prevention could benefit, all the more so against the backdrop of an ageing population. Aids developed in this area should be trialled swiftly and made available. If necessary, existing rules, such as for occupational safety and health, should be adapted. Action is needed in this respect on the part of KAN, the German Social Accident Insurance and the state authorities. I hope that we will make rapid progress and will be sufficiently open not to put a brake on innovation.
Karl-Sebastian Schulte was interviewed by Mirjam Stegherr, freelance journalist and moderator of the event held by KAN and the ZDH in Berlin.
ZDH and KAN in Berlin
At their event hosted jointly in Berlin on 21 June on the subject of standardization for the skilled crafts sector and medium-sized companies and the challenges of digitalization, the ZDH and KAN discussed opportunities and challenges in standardization work. The German Social Accident Insurance, DIN, the German federal ministries of labour and economic affairs, and the German industry and trade associations took part in the debate.