When writing the feature on drycleaning finishing I was reminded of the longstanding debate about automation and its effect on traditional skills.

As the drycleaner’s image increasingly comes under attack, that debate becomes even more relevant.

Drycleaners now have some highly sophisticated equipment available to them. Such equipment is valuable in many ways.

It can help productivity, allowing good results to be produced quickly and consistently, helping businesses to remain profitable.

Some modern equipment makes it easier for staff to reach the good standard of proficiency needed – the ironing table is one example. Multi-function form finishers can also be a great help. But there is sometimes an underlying assumption that machines will do everything and skills are very much secondary. If that view is taken to such an extent that all craft skills become lost, it can damage the industry. At the very least the traditional skills should always be available within a business, even if some staff are less skilled or experienced.

As was pointed out during the panel session at the recent TSA Guild conference, one of the problems for the industry is that it is largely unregulated. Training and qualifications are not mandatory. Legally, drycleaners must of course must have a licence to operate, but the focus of that requirement is on solvent emissions rather than craft skills.

Another point made at the same conference was that the recent Which? report seemed to conclude that the industry is neglecting basic skills.

LCN’s technical columns, Roger Cawood’s Drycleaners’ Trade Secrets and Richard Neale’s What Went Wrong, also provide regular reminders that craft skills are an essential part of the drycleaner’s job.

True, training means investment but that is worthwhile. Good craft skills will not only help in the day-to-day business but will also allow cleaners to expand successfully into premium services such as wedding dresses and gowns.

The industry is reaching a stage where the numbers of traditionally trained practitioners are declining. We need to make sure that craft skills are available to future generations.

Automated machines can be a great asset to a business, especially one that has the expertise to get the best from them. However, the role of the machine should be to serve the industry not to become its master.

Author Info:

Janet Taylor Editor