The shoe fits for Anas

Syrian migrant Anas Jawish has brought his shoe-making skills to his new job at EMU Australia (with Manager Steve Maul). Photo: MatchWorks.

This story was first published on Wednesday 25 April 2018. If you wish to use this content, please contact to confirm that the information is still current.

Footwear manufacturer Steve Maul says finding someone with the right skills and experience to work in his industry is challenging.

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

Number of people employed in artisan occupations, 2006-2016
Occupation Aug-06 Aug-11 Aug-16
Painter (Visual Arts) 2,440 2,334 2,064
Potter or Ceramic Artist 654 456 522
Sculptor 631 649 609
Wine Maker 1,665 1,654 1,699
Historian 554 528 497
Translator 1,219 1,384 1,542
Blacksmith 405 335 244
Engraver 673 649 533
Gunsmith 176 205 198
Locksmith 2,282 2,574 2,560
Precision Instrument Maker and Repairer 2,018 2,017 1,851
Watch and Clock Maker and Repairer 862 720 630
Stonemason 3,625 3,987 4,436
Dog Handler or Trainer 578 840 1,098
Horse Trainer 2,765 3,103 2,886
Hairdresser 47,874 52,925 54,421
Canvas Goods Fabricator 734 573 446
Leather Goods Maker 767 457 479
Sail Maker 472 397 251
Shoemaker 1,307 1,122 930
Dressmaker or Tailor 5,496 5,303 5,532
Upholsterer 3,504 2,777 2,408
Furniture Finisher 1,244 850 686
Picture Framer 2,321 2,020 1,739
Jeweller 4,304 3,960 3,602
Fishing Guide 97 110 98
Hunting Guide 0 4 5
Sewing Machinist 13,313 10,709 8,129
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
Stablehand 3,882 4,321 4,431
Wool Handler 1,484 1,117 1,107

Source: ABS, Census of Population and Housing, 2006 and 2016

Feature caption: Syrian migrant Anas Jawish has brought his shoe-making skills to his new job at EMU Australia (with Manager Steve Maul). Photo: MatchWorks.

Correct at time of publication.