Keeping traditional skills and finding new skills-that's the challenge as the European textiles and apparel industry shows signs of revival.

Many professionals in Asia believe that the textiles and clothing industry in Europe is definitely gone. That's not a correct view. Yes, after the end of the Multifibre Arrangement (1974-2004), it looked for some years as if the European industry was on a death row.

But today, this industry is growing again and diligently looking for scores of new employees, as the apex trade organisation Euratex (European Apparel and Textile Confederation) declared during its public General Assembly in Brussels, Belgium on June 13.

Exiting Euratex president, German Klaus Huneke, reminded the audience that in 2005-12, the already weakened European Union (EU) textiles and clothing industry lost 18 per cent of its turnover and 35 per cent of its employment. However, instead of accepting defeat, the industry posed like a character described by Joseph Heller (Catch 22): "He was going to live forever, or die in the attempt." In the six years since 2012, the industry's turnover has grown by 10 per cent to €179 billion. Extra-EU exports are up by 23 per cent and have in 2018 for the first time reached €50 billion. Labour productivity has grown by an impressive 22 per cent.

Italian Alberto Paccanelli, the newly elected Euratex president, said that in spite of relentless decline of manufacturing jobs, the EU textiles and clothing industry still employs 1.7 million people (UK included). But because 36 per cent of them are over the age of 50, significant replacement for retiring workforce is needed.

Having looked in detail at the problem, Euratex estimates that the EU textiles, clothing, leather and footwear industry will have to hire well over 600,000 employees from now until 2030 to fill the replacement demand and to address new skills. Recruiting new talent and retaining skilled workforce is undoubtedly the number one challenge for the industry.

In search of new skills

Paccanelli said: "When our companies are hiring today, they don't only look for young people with the same skillsets as the retiring workforce. They look for young talent with creative, highly technical and digital skills for high added value jobs."

What are the possible solutions advised by Euratex?

A bit surprisingly, Euratex is not suggesting that as part of the EU immigration strategy, the red carpet be rolled out for foreign specialists originating from (Asian) textiles and clothing countries and excelling in design, product development, digitalisation, and recycling.