Every year in the Central Victorian town of Kyneton there is a popular event. The Lost Trades Fair draws quite a large crowd from all over Victoria who are interested to learn about trades that are no longer. Many trades that have fallen into obsolescence are featured at the fair including blacksmiths, armorers, coach builders and also silversmiths. Yep, you read that right. Silversmiths.
But don’t we still have silversmiths? In relation to the making of silver jewellery, yes, we do. The lost trade of silversmithing you will see at the fair is one of silver objects. Flatware, silverware, candle sticks and the like. All of these items have now been replaced with machine made options in more affordable base metals. Another situation where cheaper, overseas, mass produced imports and the inevitable shifting of tradition and trend have rendered an entire profession obsolete.
Will we ever see jewellers featured at a lost trade event? It seems impossible when there is a jewellery store on every corner. Hell, our local shopping centre had seven jewellery stores under the one roof at one stage. But we should not confuse jewellery stores with Jewellers which is what seems to be happening. The lack of regulation of our industry means that anybody who sells jewellery can call themselves a jeweller. There is no differentiation between a store that imports mass produced jewellery to on-sell and an individual person who has studied to earn the title of Jeweller. As a result a vast portion of the public see Manufacturing Jewellers and supermarket style jewellery stores as one and the same when in fact they are two distinctly different entities. It’s back to the apples and oranges analogy from my previous blog.
To make it clear, if I was to open a store selling CD’s that does not make me a musician. Nor does selling clothing make me a fashion designer or the retailing of books entitle me to call myself an author. See where I am going with this?
There is much talk in the industry about dwindling enrollments in the different courses available to study to become a jeweller. If the numbers remain consistently low the education institutes will stop offering them. End of story. They can hardly justify the expense of an entire department worth of staff and overheads for one or two inductees. It is basic business 101. If this happens in one state, then another and finally all over Australia then we essentially go from being threatened right to the critically endangered list. We may as well book our space at the lost trades fair right then and there.
Is there a way we can fix this? Yes, absolutely. We just need to hire more apprentices, fill the enrollment vacancies at the TAFES and create demand for the courses to run. Sounds too easy right? Well that’s because it is an overly simplistic solution to a very complex problem. You see for an existing jeweller to be able to employ an apprentice he or she needs to be able to afford to pay them for the next four years at least. That includes paying tax, insurance, superannuation, annual leave, sick leave, leave loading, penalty rates if applicable and any course fees for their TAFE components. All of the hidden fun stuff that comes along with being an employer of staff!
It is not a problem that has a simple, single solution. What we can do is to try to encourage our locals to shop local and shop Australian made. By making conscious decisions to support small local businesses we enable those small businesses to afford employees. Small business will flourish, local economy will boost, local people will be employed and trained in a career so that they can go on to eventually employ an apprentice of their own and the positive cycle continues.
It is a great honour and privilege to pass knowledge and skills down from one generation to the next and to have a role in keeping your chosen profession alive. It is something we hope to be able to do ourselves one day. Until then we will continue to encourage our clients to make informed choices when shopping and to consider their local small businesses & Australian made products.
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