The value of craft skills to the future of making in Australia


In the digital future, craft skills embedded and working in collaboration with industry are essential to innovation as Australia looks to develop high-end advanced manufacturing. However, our capacity to grow pioneering manufacturing is profoundly threatened by the generational loss of the often highly-embodied nature of crafts and hands-on making expertise.


A recent study in the UK found that the non-creative industries employing the most people in craft occupations are generally manufacturing-based (Crafts Council/Tuck 2014, p. 16), but the link between craft and manufacturing is an old but vulnerable one, with the risks today profoundly exacerbated by the loss of traditional manufacturing industries in countries such as Australia. This loss of practical making skills and knowledge of materials and their capacities is further compounded by the closure of many key TAFE courses focussed on craft and manual skills, and the winding back of expensive studio training by schools and universities. This deficit affects not only current industries, but also threatens future innovation and the growth of high-end manufacturing at a time of profound global change enabled by advances in digital technology.

Therefore, the primary aim of the project is to identify ways in which the essential embedded making skills required to sustain and grow future manufacturing can be maintained and extended, supporting not only the survival and updating of current production but, significantly, enabling the kind of fertile ground out of which the innovation necessary for developing advanced manufacturing can grow.

Person weldingThe research questions driving this investigation are:

  1. Having established a statistical analysis framework to enable an Australian mapping, where are workers with craft skills embedded within making ecosystems, and what are these craft skills?
  2. What is lost if these skills are not embedded within making ecosystems? What skills and knowledges are themselves currently at risk of being lost; which are crucially needed but not present?
  3. What difference do context, location, age, gender, race and ethnicity, educational attainment and perceived class location make to craftspeople’s ability to work across different making skillsets, infrastructures and needs?
  4. To what degree have skills been gained through informal rather than formal training networks, that is through immersion in a making habitus (‘tacit skills’), and how is this best replicated moving forward?

Focussing on three key groups of craftspeople: those employed in craft industries, in craft occupations in ‘other’ creative industries, and craft occupations in non-creative industries (Crafts Council/Tuck 2014), this project will identify where craft skills are utilised within Australian making ecologies, are under threat, need re-imagining or are needed to realise the potential of advanced manufacturing in Australia.

Research team
Professor Susan Luckman
Dr Ash Tower

Project funding source
ARC Discovery Grant

Australian Government ARC Council logo

Key contact
Contact Prof Susan Luckman for more information.