French savoir-faire is a critical issue. Ensuring the longevity of its professions was the key topic at the second Rencontres du Cuir meeting organised by the Conseil National du Cuir and hosted by the leather goods maker Camille Fournet.
In terms of employees, the French leather goods sector represents more than two-thirds of the industrial side of the leather industry. This sector, which is boosted by the production of luxury items, has been particularly active in recent years. Camille Fournet, a company located in Aisne, northern France, since 1945 is an example of an innovative regional company with a strong export presence. The diversification of the company - from watch straps to luxury leather goods – led its director, Jean-Luc Déchery, to extend the production site in Tergnier and recruit new staff in order to optimise all its expertise.
A round table on training and artisanal skills followed a visit to the Camille Fournet workshop (3 October 2014). Three experts from the French sector, invited as part of the Rencontres du Cuir event, gave their assessment of the sector, underlined how it is developing and outlined perspectives for the future.
Yves Morin, Executive Director of CTC
“The leather industry represents something like 100 different professions. It is a vast and complex world. The image of the industry is undergoing great change. When we talk about training, we mention the pyramid of ages. The needs at the heart of the sector are identified by the professional federations, schools, and the national education system. There are not enough initial and continued professional development programmes; that is obvious. Technical training suffers from its poor image. There are plenty of training courses to become a stylist, whereas there are too few schools offering production courses. We need young people to join the industry with the support of the authorities, the national education system and parents. And yet, the regions have shown support for the leather professions. Interesting experiments have been carried out in Aquitaine, Ile-de-France and Rhône-Alpes, and a number of companies are developing in the leather sector."
Patrice Mignon, President of the French Leather Goods Federation
“The French leather goods sector has enjoyed remarkable success worldwide. Camille Fournet is the proof that an independent French business can grow without being part of a huge group, reconciling artisanal skills and the industrial scale. But the leather goods sector is one which recognises the need to showcase its savoir-faire. The reality of training in this sector means that apprenticeships should be promoted. The sector is not receiving enough young people to train, although SMEs represent 90% of the sector.”
Frank Boehly, President of the Conseil National du Cuir and President of the Federation of Footwear Retail Chains
“Our country has downplayed its vocational training sector, too often young people choose it by default. And yet, it is essential to ensure the sustainability of the expertise in the sector by attracting young people. The leather sector has a number of advantages that make it very promising. And therefore, the SMEs represent an important means of social mobility. Specialised employees are very well paid and are in demand. Retail, which employs a quarter of unskilled workers, is a very useful way of entering the sector. Leading brands like Repetto have created their own schools to ensure the next generation is trained. Making our professions more attractive means improving the image of apprenticeship and ensuring that a wider number of training courses are recognised. Such as the leather engineer course, which is only taught at the ITHEC technical and chemical institute, and training as a bootmaker and last maker, which is taught by CTC. Our sector must improve its image, communicate around the exceptional French products and labels...and also finance a specific investment fund.”