Shoemaking is an artisan craft, a niche industry dominated by cheaper imports designed to be used and discarded.
Thirty or more years ago it was common for many old shoes to be repaired and re-soled, providing solid employment for shoemakers.
Not so now. Census data shows the number of shoemakers in Australia has decreased from 1307 in 2006 to just 930 in 2016.
Steve is the factory manager with iconic Geelong-based footwear manufacturer EMU Australia, famed for its sheepskin and merino wool products. He says the trade is in decline.
‘It can take six months to train someone from scratch. Then they don’t stay,’ Steve said.
‘It’s a bit of a dying industry and it’s getting harder to find the right staff.
‘We do all our Australian products from here at Geelong, and we also export overseas. The market’s there but young people don’t realise there are still jobs for people with these skills’.
Late last year, Syrian-born migrant Anas Jawish was struggling.
A shoemaker with 20 years’ experience, he was nevertheless finding it difficult to get work. He sought help through MatchWorks in Geelong, which pairs job seekers with employers through the jobactive program.
‘We were having little luck finding work and then I noticed a shoemaker position at EMU Australia headquarters,’ Mimi Wong from MatchWorks said.
‘I called Anas in and we did the application together.’
Anas was offered a full-time position as a sheepskin clicker - someone who cuts the uppers for boots or shoes from the hide - and started in January 2018.
The job has transformed his life. He has confidence and he is grateful to be using his skills again.
Steve said the fact that Anas had experience in the industry was a huge plus for him and made it an easy decision to offer him a job.
‘When he started we had someone with him for about four weeks, but now he’s come up to speed and running on his own,’ Steve said.
‘He is doing really well.’
A loss of skilled talent is evident in a host of other artisan industries. The number of sewing machinists in Australia, for example, has dropped from 13,313 in 2006 to 8,129 in 2016. Those working in textile dyeing have dropped from 301 in 2006 to 96 in 2016.
But there are growth areas. The number of stonemasons has risen from 3,625 to 4,436. Translators have gone up from 1,219 to 1,542. And dog handlers have flourished, rising from 578 to 1,098.
Hairdressers, which include barbers, increased from 47,874 in 2006 to 54,421 in 2016.
For more information on occupations visit www.joboutlook.gov.au.
|Painter (Visual Arts)||2,440||2,334||2,064|
|Potter or Ceramic Artist||654||456||522|
|Precision Instrument Maker and Repairer||2,018||2,017||1,851|
|Watch and Clock Maker and Repairer||862||720||630|
|Dog Handler or Trainer||578||840||1,098|
|Canvas Goods Fabricator||734||573||446|
|Leather Goods Maker||767||457||479|
|Dressmaker or Tailor||5,496||5,303||5,532|
|Footwear Production Machine Operator||334||243||210|
|Hide and Skin Processing Machine Operator||1,310||900||188|
|Knitting Machine Operator||384||136||74|
|Textile Dyeing and Finishing Machine Operator||301||147||96|
|Weaving Machine Operator||638||446||230|
|Yarn Carding and Spinning Machine Operator||512||457||231|
|Textile and Footwear Production Machine Operators nec||487||343||395|
|Hide and Skin Processing Worker||450||223||252|
Source: ABS, Census of Population and Housing, 2006 and 2016