Leather needs the power of youth

Redwood Comment
Published:  01 December, 2021
Credit: Brooke Cagle

Mike Redwood explains that as our post-Covid world is rapidly changing, we must be properly supporting and enticing younger generations in the leather industry.

As the newly discovered Omicron variant of Covid-19 reignites pandemic concerns around the world, we should remind ourselves that we have entered a new order that will from now on be dominated by younger cohorts, which include Millennials (25 to 40 years old) and Generation Z (11-24).

A decade ago, we entered a period when the retirement rate in the leather industry increased as the Boomer generation grew older. With a numerically smaller X generation, senior positions are now being occupied by much younger individuals. This should lead to more diverse board rooms, although so far it is far from clear that this is happening.

Getting younger people involved is vital for the leather industry but diversity is an equally essential element for our businesses to face the challenges of new technologies, new consumers and the changing climate. They are the ones shaping the future. Let us kill off the homogeneous boardroom where elderly men still arrive in dark suits and ties.

Coincidentally, the post-Covid “normality” is resulting in big differences across the world in matters such as inflation, employment trends, lifestyles and purchasing attitudes. The way in which countries have dealt with the pandemic, access to and roll out of vaccinations and the return to work have varied widely, with most of Africa for instance unlikely to be vaccinated before 2023, if ever. Even before adding the new China-U.S. rivalry, the diversity of outcomes across the globe has been surprising, and it is clear there is some distance still to go.

Since context plays a big role in the attitudes and behaviours of generations, it means that the modern under 40s are not as easily categorised as previously thought. In China, things are changing so quickly that after splitting normal generational categories into decades such as 80s and 90s, we are increasingly highlighting Chinese post-95s as quite distinct because of more education, travel, disposable income and Internet usage; important as it closely relates to the purchase of luxury goods and interest in U.S. brands.

Changing the future but badly treated

What is also clear is that youth employment remains high throughout the world, exacerbated because the young were quickly pushed out of work at the start of the pandemic. Aging societies in some areas has opened opportunities but highlighted education and work entry weaknesses. This often leaves those left behind from university channels (and even some who are not) lacking adequate communication and digital skills, never mind creativity, critical thinking or an ability to work in teams.

For many, the entry to work involves agencies putting them into “low quality” jobs, with poor pay and little chance to develop transferable skills. There is some evidence that the use of online AI pre-screening methods involve an unintended bias against certain groups, as well as creating high levels of anxiety.

Good career paths

In the leather industry, we need such young people to replace the older workers now retiring and to bring in their refreshing dynamism and insight that permits business to progress. We should be able to offer them good career paths at all levels of entry. We need to retain the possibility for a low-level starter to rise to the top in an organisation and equally in the leather industry, where we want to make lasting products, innovation will become more important than productivity gains in increasing wealth.

Around the world, more and more tanners and producers of leather items are finding the benefits of steadily building a younger workforce. We can help reduce the issues of housing costs, raising children, pensions and a much deeper concern about the future of the planet that are creating so much anxiety among the youth of the world.

Our companies need to reflect our society

This jump into the next generation finds them already moving to the top of the consumer purchasing pile and our workforce must aim to properly represent them. We need to see the appropriate diversity in age, gender and ethnicity as well as skills and experience throughout all levels of the leather business to help interpret these changes.

With changing demand in different sectors, volatile raw material prices and astonishing changes in demand volumes and areas, the leather business has had a complicated few years. Yet the next generation revolution will force even bigger changes and, to be at the forefront of the materials sector, we must get them throughout the ranks of our employees.

Mike Redwood

mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Dr Mike Redwood on Twitter: @michaelredwood

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