Employment challenge: integrating employees and the industry 4.0

By Milena Bello

Manual skills and IT, craftsmanship and technological innovation. Like in every other industry, the 4.0 industrial standard applies to fashion as well.

The romantic image of the seamstress sewing fabulous outfits with the aid of thread and needle is not completely blurred. While the seamstress is still there, next to needle and thread, she is expected to be proficient in using the PC, corporate chats and have a smattering of fashion-specific software applications. In a nutshell, technology has brought disruption also in the manufacturing industry which, until recently, had been heritage-driven. Probably this has stood out as the trump card to tackle the employment paradox. Figures in the fashion industry show a situation that differs from the rest of the national average. According to some recent estimates of the Italian Union of Chambers of Commerce about the expected evolution of the job demand in the Italian market between 2017 and 2021 which Sistema Moda Italia presented last November at the latest Job&Orienta, the fashion’s labour market will need 47.330 new resources across all the segments of the supply chain over the next five years.

Local figures corroborate national figures. According to an estimate of the Industrial Federation of Biella, the workforce demand in the local textile industry will amount to 1.200 people over the next five years. In Tuscany, just to mention the geographic area around Florence, the Industrial Federation estimatesthat, over the past two years, the demand for new resources to be hired in the leatherware industry totaled over three thousand people. To this adds on the demand in the provinces of Lucca, Pistoia and Prato respectively in the textile, fashion and footwear industry. An analysis carried out by the Industrial Federation’s Studies Centre of Northern Tuscany, estimates that 1100 workers currently employed in the textile industry, are likely to retire sometime soon. A similar situation is witnessed in Veneto, a region where the entire fashion supply chain is spread across several industrial districts. According to the Fashion and Textile Division of the Industrial Federation of Vicenza, over one third of the human resources working in the fashion industry in Veneto is over 50 years old. While the impact of recession in the Carpi area has translated into the downsizing of companies and the reduction of the number of employees, this is a district where established companies struggle to identify skilled workforce to be hired mainly in the sales department and R&D: model makers with CAD skills (therefore IT), pattern makers and knitwear designers, sample set supervisors and new professional figures like the assistant project manager.

What steps are to be taken to get over this problem and seize the opportunities of Industry 4.0? For the time being, the industrial federations of the single districts have been the most proactive in reinforcing their collaboration agreements with local vocational schools. The Industrial Textile Federation of Como,for instance, has offered a two-year vocational training programme alongside an apprenticeship contract. In Biella, the local industrial federation has been promoting multiple projects ranging from the Textile Academy to the agreement with the Vocational School Tam, all the way down to the Biella Orientation Show ‘WooooW, Io e il mio futuro’ and the project Bifuelpromoted by the young entrepreneurs of Biella to the benefit of secondary schools. In Veneto, besides the support given to secondary schools, it is important underlining theFootwear Polytechnic of Riviera del Brenta, which trains 95% of the district workforce. In the area around Florence three schools are extremely active, Polimoda of Florence, Mita (Made in Italy Tuscany Academy) and the Alta Scuola di Pelletteria, whereas Northern Tuscany has reinforced the partnership between the Northern Tuscany Industrial Federation and the professional hubs (Vocational Hub “Fashion system Prato/Florence”, Ipsia “Guglielmo Marconi” of Prato and the Vocational School “Marchi-Forti” of Pescia). Carpi boasts the Carpi Fashion System, which has been in place for seven years. While companies often report the difficulty to recruit enough youths, there seems to lack clear information about the structure of the fashion labour market. A few companies have responded by providing their perspective. Mantua-based Castor, for instance, in addition to its brand Mantù, has collaborated with Antonio MarrasGiambattista ValliFendi and Chanel, has edited videos which, capturing the various professional profiles, are meant to be submitted to schools. The difficulty reported in recruiting labour clashes with other districts which are either shutting down or companies going through dire straits because they “cannot accept job offers from luxury brands”, claims Giuseppe Iorio, author of the book ‘Made in Italy? Il lato oscuro della moda’ as he refers to Laif (Free Association of Textile Outside Contractors). An apparent paradox as resulted from the early century offshoring phenomenon and, at the same time, from the current reshoring difficulties, namely the comeback to Italy which could be driven by information technology expertise.