The digital transformation has already changed numerous industries and sectors in a lasting way. After trade and the entertainment industry as well as the manufacturing industry, the craft sector is also facing a fundamental structural change in the coming years.
With more than 6,370 businesses (WKO 2019) in 2018, the craft trades form the traditional backbone of the Tyrolean economy. Many of these businesses are family businesses. New digital technologies (e.g. Industry 4.0, additive manufacturing processes), new materials and substances (e.g. composite materials, lightweight construction, bio-plastics) as well as new distribution channels and media (e.g. e-commerce, online marketing) present the Tyrolean handcraft enterprises with new opportunities, e.g. in terms of new business models, but also with numerous challenges. In several research projects, the MCI (research area “Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Marketing” and the Family Business Center) has therefore investigated the future competitiveness of carpenter companies in Tyrol.
Together with the Holzmanufaktur Auer from Innsbruck and an internationally leading manufacturer of woodworking machines, future scenarios for the "Carpenter 2025" were developed. For this purpose, more than 180 interviews with industry experts from nine countries and a future survey with more than 220 experts were conducted. On the basis of the empirical data and extensive literature studies, it was shown that the increase in the proportion of semi-finished and finished parts, the advancing automation and the international competition are confronting many joinery companies with the question of existence. In order to secure their future viability, it will therefore be important for Tyrolean joinery firms to increasingly create synergies from networks and cooperations (e.g. joint investments in digital technologies and machines) and use the opportunities offered by new business models (e.g. individualization, one-stop service, e-commerce) in order to be able to open up new markets and customer groups.
But the way there is not easy for many companies. As the MCI has found out in the project "Innovativeness of Carpenter Companies" (funded by the Tyrolean Science Fund TWF), the topic of "innovation" poses great challenges for many companies - not only because of the acute shortage of skilled workers or the big question of company succession. Many have no or hardly structured processes for the targeted development of new products, services, new manufacturing processes or the development of new business fields and customer groups. For the MCI, these findings form the starting point for the development of new, tailor-made qualification offers for craft enterprises.
The successful transfer of scientific findings and expertise into business practice from these projects was achieved on the one hand through several applied research projects with students. These small-sized projects examined issues such as the future of trade fair construction and the potential of cross-company production structures, and developed proposed solutions for Tyrolian carpenters.
On the other hand, the research results as well as concrete strategic options for action were presented and discussed in April 2019 with around 50 representatives of the Tyrolean carpentry trade at a ‘Practitioners' Forum’ in cooperation with the Austrian Chamber of Commerce. The aim was to promote the exchange of experience between entrepreneurs and to offer the opportunity to learn with and from each other. Topics such as overcoming the shortage of skilled workers, the proactive organization and management of employees, the transfer of knowledge in the course of succession or the increase of innovation and competitiveness were in the focus of attention.
Due to the high practical relevance and the consistently positive response from the outside world, these projects were a great success and form a good basis for intensifying cooperation with Tyrolean craft enterprises in order to secure the innovative and competitive ability of the province.
Practitioners forum of MCI and the carpenters' guild. From left: Michaela Engl (Qualitätshandwerk Tirol), Antje Bierwisch (MCI), study authors Thomas Auer (Holzmanufaktur Auer), Anita Zehrer and Gabriela Leiß (both Family Business Center), Oliver Som (back, SME Innovation Network), Klaus Buchacher (Provincial Guild Master), Kristina Fürhapter (Section Manager of the Tyrolean Chamber of Commerce). Photo: MCI.