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The Future of Timber Construction

On the occasion of an EU seminar in 2006, Simone Kochhafen, the project leader, presented an exemplary project called „The Future of Timber Construction“. Here she welcomes participants from all of the EU member countries. Representatives from the EU LEADER Observation post and the national network and administration posts that are responsible for the development of the LEADER programme were also present.
The purpose of the so-called field trips was to relate practical knowledge in the form of concrete examples and to exchange know-how. Simone Kochhafen represents the guild of wood processors in Vorarlberg.  The guild concentrates on two basic strategies in its work for the member companies.

The first strategy is: „Stimulating innovation through creative contests“ and the second strategy is: „Raising the standard of wood processing through qualification“. The LEADER+ Project, „The Future of Timber Construction“ starts with qualification and was developed, working closely together with the member companies.  

The contractors participating in the project, also participated in the workgroup that was created for the training programme.  Kochhafen says that the LEADER+ project is popular with youths.  The project has succeeded in developing and implementing a training programme for youths beyond the boundaries of the plants.  Why is this unusual and what is so special about it?

Co-operation with SME‘s in the training of workers:

In the wood processing branch, and in our region, we are talking about small businesses with between 5 and 40 employees.  These businesses cannot afford training facilities or specialised trainers, like large businesses can, because of the way they are structured.  

If a higher level of training is to be achieved, then there must be co-operation.  After many discussions in the project group meetings, the businesses decided on a common programme and then developed it.   

The attractiveness of small business for young workers:

Are small businesses lucrative for youths and their choice of career?  No, unfortunately not.  It is a lot harder for small businesses to keep good workers.  It was absolutely necessary to create a new image and to tread new paths.  The common training programme and the industry wide co-operation made it possible to create a new, and much better image during the past four years.  We were able to raise the new generation of wood workers to a high level and attract youths to this trade.  During the past 5 years we have been able to raise employment in the entire branch by 13% by using the two strategies mentioned at the beginning.  We are very happy about this trend.

Increasing social competence:

Competition is getting harder and harder and the SME‘s have to assert themselves professionally.  This is why qualified managers are needed and it isn‘t enough anymore when the boss alone is well received with the customers.  Everyone has to be able to face the customer.  Managerial tasks have to be taken over, construction sites have to be managed professionally, and we have to co-operate closely with other craftsmen.   And that has to be learned.  That is why the training programme isn‘t just made up of technical components; they can be learned in trade school.  The development of personality, and social competence are very important concerns in the seminars.

In the framework of the LEADER project, training programmes were developed which are not usually found in standard vocational training.  Company-wide training camps were arranged and the young people from all of the companies spent a few weeks together.  The youths were given theoretical as well as practical lessons, worked together in one plant and spent their free time with each other.  They erected buildings for social purposes and carried out useful activities.

When asked about the special features of the project, the youths said that during the training camp they were able to make new friends from other companies, that they were very impressed by their bosses‘ willingness to co-operate with other companies and that they learned a lot in a few particular areas.


The instructor said that organising the training camp was a challenge but that it was a wonderful experience.  The nice thing about it was that suddenly you felt, and were convinced, that these youths would be in the position to take over the small and medium sized businesses one day.  They will nurture, develop and carry their craft into the future.  The people in charge are convinced that the training programme is an important contribution to the cultivation and further development of the culture of handicrafts and will increase regional strengths.

Apart from the youth training programme, the project also dealt with the further education of the journeymen and master craftsmen.  By relaying knowledge, the branch wants to improve its now good reputation even more and guarantee that it stays that way in the future.

A very positive observation is the increasing and natural way, the companies are working together in the area of qualification.  Above all this, because of the project, a few business co-operations were formed and the collaboration between businesses has improved generally.  Once the project has come to an end, the training programme will be continued and financed by the participating businesses.

The instructor brings it to a point:

„We are proud that we came out as the winning project from the „Future in the Alps“ project contest.  The work was judged by a neutral jury.  The positive feedback motivates us to stay on the ball and to expand and perfect the qualification proposal.“

The contest for the best project in the Alpine region with the name „Future in the Alps“ was posted by CIPRA in the entire Alpine region.  570 projects from all 7 regions took part.

Facts Count

A few facts about the value added chain Timber.

The handicraft enterprises in Vorarlberg are small and very small businesses with a long history.  The „Future in Timber Construction“ project will contribute to the conservation and further development of the handicraft culture, particularly because it turns out that these small businesses are a stable employment factor in Vorarlberg.

After all, 30,000 people work in the over 3,000 small businesses today.  That is almost 1/3 of the working population in the state!  The rest of the people employed are divided amongst industry, trade, banking, insurance, services and tourism.

Of the 3,000 businesses, 600 of them belong to the value added chain of timber, and employ almost 6,000 people.

The region has won a good name for itself in Europe in the areas of timber construction and architecture.  During the past few years this branch was able to increase its turnover by 50% and raise its number of employees by 13%.

„The LEADER project „The future of Timber Construction“ helped us to improve the cooperation between businesses and we are now able to look to the future with optimism, even though these   points cannot be laid to rest because:

Whoever believes he is the best, has started to step backwards.

We will be starting projects in the future that also contribute to the culture of team work,“ says Ms Kochhafen, and wishes all of the seminar participants a lively exchange of information.

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