The Euroroc General Assembly discussed current problem areas and opportunities at Marmomac 2023
In the end, it was the good prospects that put the members of Euroroc part in good spirits. Euroroc is the umbrella organization of the EU Natural Stone associations – with expansion to include Switzerland, Turkey, Norway, and the UK – and at Marmomac 2023 the association representatives came together as usual for their annual General Assembly.
Part of the program is that at the beginning of the meeting, the individual countries report on the situation at home. There were negative reports from almost everywhere, as private housing construction is experiencing reduced demand in many places. Although projects that have been started are still being continued in most countries, the order books are empty for the coming year at the latest.
As if that were not enough, the stone sector is facing a serious shortage of skilled personnel.
However, such phases of reduced demand or shortages on various fields have always existed, and so complaining is just as much a part of the business as the ups and downs.
In this respect, the representatives of the associations at the meeting at Marmomac were gladly infected by the enthusiasm spread by Hermann Graser, currently president of Euroroc, and of the German association DNV: he pleaded for solid construction with naturality, which he hopes will make stone “the building material of the future.“
In essence, there are three aspects that led him to this assessment:
* first, stone is the material with the best values under climate aspects, next to wood;
* second, the use of stone as a load-bearing building material was the norm until reinforced concrete became common from about 1860 onward;
* third, a renewed interest in stone has been established among architects in many countries, which in turn has led to the existence of research projects on massive construction at universities.
Apart from this, was added by Euroroc Secretary General Professor Gerd Merke, stone has a unique position here: “With ceramics and engineered stone, solid building is not feasible,” he said, and as a joke immediately followed up with a movie quote: “Now we are on the bright side of life.“
Graser announced that there will be an architects’ congress in English language on solid construction with stone at the Stone+tec trade fair (June 19-22, 2024) in Nuremberg.
However, if the sector can count on increasing demand for its material, can it grow accordingly? More specifically, how will it fight the serious problem of the shortage of skilled workers?
Some associations are already working on the problem, according to the field reports. In the UK, a Stone Academy is in the planning stage, which is to provide both training for the next generation and further training for employees. A successful mentoring program has been in place there for years to recruit young talents.
As another option, the German stonemasons’ association BIV has come up with a campaign that aims to draw attention to the profession with loose slogans. The idea seems to be catching on: “There have been 6% more applicants this year than in previous years,“ Merke reported. And above all: “Significantly more women than usual have applied.“ However, it remains to be seen how many of the newcomers will actually complete the entire 3-year apprenticeship before the success of the program can be definitively judged.
It is known from many countries that the sector and its professions have the best chance of acquiring a new image:
* in the processing of stone, machines with CNC control are ubiquitous;
* their professions can certainly present themselves as “green“, since natural stone has a minimal carbon footprint compared to other building materials.
Present at the meeting from across the Atlantic were Jim Hieb of the U.S. Natural Stone Institute and a representative of Polycor, a Canadian company that plays a major role in France. Hieb pleaded for a pooling of common strengths: “We get more credibility if we all say the same,“ he encouraged more cooperation and more sharing of experiences in solving industry problems.
(06.11.2023, USA: 11.06.2023)