Traditional and emerging professional profiles: in footwear production, there is a need for a new generation of technicians and managers

[On the cover: Polina Zimmerman_Pexels]

In the footwear sector, specific technical skills in shoe production are essential, however, the digital, omnichannel, and sustainability dimensions all require new types of professionals to be hired or outsourced by companies. Tommaso Cancellara, Assocalzaturifici General Manager, sheds light on the professions of the future, but reminds us that we must “not forget the model maker, who is the real star of the show, fought over by companies”. This is a warning directed at young people, who should not underestimate the importance of technical training, but it is also an invitation to choose training to become emerging, innovative professional figures.

How is the footwear sector training changing?

Let’s make a distinction: I do not think innovation – in which I believe deeply – should take precedence over the core business of companies i.e., making shoes that require specific tasks and figures – such as model makers, fitters, and pre-assemblers – professional figures which are not innovative, but indispensable, and which unfortunately are experiencing a generation gap that puts them at risk. I fear that there is a technical vacuum in some districts and a surplus in others. In my opinion, regions, institutions, associations, and training schools need to create a system to respond to both supply and demand.

What about the new professions?

There are some roles that are increasingly in demand: production managers, for example, who have to engineer production lines. Many companies produce for large groups and international labels that only “buy time”, and no longer buy professionalism. Under such conditions, to optimise production times each company needs a manager who understands new production techniques, integrates industry 4.0, and understands the needs of these large multinationals corporations. There is also a trend linked to 360-degree digitisation, which not only involves digital sales, but also includes production. Thus, competent figures on industry 4.0, the internet of things, and connection to management systems. Digitisation, however, also means online sales, which is increasingly multi-channel and requires an omnichannel manager who understands digital sales options, which differ from country to country, and has a knowledge of international logistics, which is increasingly complex and should be integrated into strategic business decisions.

All this, whilst not underestimating the part of digital production that pertains to the development of 3D models. 3D prototyping is becoming more and more important. There are companies that can provide a 3D sample collection, without having to produce all the samples themselves. And companies have to know how to evaluate the outsourcing possibilities available on the market.

The new world of generation Z, which by 2030 will represent over 50% of purchases, will involve an ever deeper knowledge of social networks that are integrated into the sales sector and, as such, we need to understand how to sell on the metaverse, how to monetize Twitch. This involves figures, not necessarily available within the company, but perhaps obtainable through outsourcing, that can help manage new digital sales channels with a view to multi-channelling.

Tommaso Cancellara, Assocalzaturifici General Manager, sheds light on the professions of the future

Sustainable change also means new skills.

Absolutely, because sustainability is destined to pervade the entire organisation, from those who make purchases to those who produce and sell. It is now necessary to move on to the third phase of sustainability, that of making concrete changes, after the first stage of acquiring information and the second of attempts. Thus, the company must have all-round sustainability parameters, that is, not only innovative and eco-friendly materials, but environmental, social, economic, and financial sustainability. As such, sustainability managers will be increasingly in demand. This also merges with the traceability of the supply chain and, therefore, we also need experts in both the upstream and downstream supply chain. In this area, European regulations will come into force: such as extended producer responsibility (EPR) according to which every company must regenerate, recycle, or renew as much material as it is produced.

Are schools adjusting in response to these new professions?

I see a significant gap due to a lack of funds because there is also a need for new hardware and machinery that requires significant investment. There is no strategic system-level vision to achieve shared planning, as such there is a risk that companies will increasingly have to train staff internally.

Isn’t there any shared leadership?

Confindustria Moda, for example, has created the Education Committee which is trying to network all the schools that deal with fashion. This is no mean feat because each school is under the aegis of its own regional government, or some have private funds, others survive only on public subsidies, so the education sector moves at different speeds. Furthermore, the training offer is very fragmented and difficult to understand across the various ITS (Istituti Tecnici Superiori, technical schools), IFTS (Istruzione e Formazione Tecnica Superiore, technical training schools), academies, and universities that offer fashion courses, etc.. As such, we need a broad rethinking of the whole system.

Flavia Colli Franzone