As part of the B-WISE project, a team from arbeit plus –Social Enterprises Austria – visited Bicycle in Graz, Fix und Fertig in Vienna and the WAMS association in Tyrol. The main topic of the interviews were prospects and development paths.
Based on the interviews and personal conversations, we made observations about corporate culture, strengths, and weaknesses – and we explored the need for digitization in the respective work context.
Our first stop was the Bicycle Association in Graz. Bicycle was founded in March 1989 and developed out of a youth center where the young adults renovated their location as an employment agency project. Doing this, for Gerd Kronheim and his colleagues it became clear that creating employment with a product that was fun and gave meaning to young people was a great success - that is how the Bicycle project came about: bicycle repair and upcycling, a bike shop and bike rental as an employment project for young people in Graz.
The shops today are fancy and well equipped the locations are connected though an intranet system and last year the association invested in a cloud telephone system. As far as shop management is concerned (cash register system, billing and ordering system, pricing, codes with warehouse management), market standards and top sales software are used. “We must survive on the market. The enablers train the disadvantaged workers - and the job prospects increase after the time spent with us," says the shop manager. It is precisely this mix of business, craftsmanship and people that makes social enterprises so special. "I like this mixture of technology - bike repair - and the social - giving people a perspective," says an enabler about his motivation.
Digitalization push forward
During the Corona time, projects have been given a digitalization push and innovations were implemented in the companies, so the social enterprises had to adapt their work structures. This also led to challenges of digitization, which were repeatedly discussed. For projects, standards that are necessary for the development and integration of digital tools are often missing. In addition, digitization projects were experienced as an add-on to daily work, and not as a replacement or relief.
The Wams association, is the sponsor of socio-economic companies in Tyrol, which offer temporary jobs for long-term unemployed people in the areas of collection, repair, recycling, and sale of second-hand goods. Disadvantaged workers can gain a foothold in the labor market, for example, was facing new challenges: "Just a few years ago we were concentrating on analog coaching and consulting services, now we have to provide basic tools for our target audience: how to apply online, how to use the e-AMS and an email address in the work environment, how to research the internet, etc.”
Digitalization and participation
Digitization and digital skills are essential for participation in our modern society. Therefore, digitization projects are important for all social enterprises. But vulnerable people must also be empowered to use digital tools to live participation and inclusion in the digital world.
“Digitization reveals a social divide. Many people in our target group have neither a computer nor a mobile phone. Here we have a responsibility to contribute to social inclusion and participation and to enable people to find their way in an increasingly digitized world," says Christine Regensburger, the managing director of the association Wams in Tirol.
“In addition to appropriate infrastructure, what is needed above all are target group-specific and low-threshold training formats in basic digital skills. With their practice-oriented combination of work and learning, social enterprises offer a suitable framework for this. Existing training formats can and must be expanded accordingly.”
The programs were converted and adapted to online, coaching and consulting services expanded. Setting up, operating, and maintaining e-learning platforms (the Moodle learning platform is the most common) costs a lot of money and resources and the question remains how to motivate the transition workforce to digital learning. “In my old life in Iran, I worked on the computer every day. That's 10 years ago. It's so easy to get off the hook if you don't have a computer at home," reports a disadvantaged worker who dreams of soon running integration courses herself.
A sense of achievement as a solution
However, many of the disadvantaged workers do not have the benefit of former digital education or fitness. There is a lot to do to catch up in terms of basic education and technical equipment. Anyone who does not speak German properly and has no computer or internet at home will find it difficult to keep up to date - this affects many disadvantaged workers and is a real issue.
These reasons given, Fix und Fertig has chosen a different approach: renovation, printing and enveloping are the services carried out here. Most of the work is done by hand, machines operate mechanical, the work is unspiritual and repetitive, but it gives a rhythm and a structure. Computers are only be seen in the offices of the work supervisors. "I've had many different Jobs, but I had little to do with digitization. In principle, I'd rather be on the construction site than in front of the computer," says a worker in an interview.
Fix und Fertig aims to help people with addictions getting back to work by offering them temporary jobs, motivating them, giving them a daily structure. Here the focus lies not so much on digitalization, but rather on the regulated workflow, a meaningful activity - and the sense of achievement when an order has been successfully completed.
"A good working atmosphere and getting along with each other well are self-evident in our company, but not in the lives of our clients," says Walter Wojcik, who has been running the company for 30 years. But not only the satisfaction of the workers, but also that of the customers is important. "What is important to me? – When the orders go well, the goods are packed and picked up. Honest praise from the customer,” says Christina Himoudi, head of the textile printing department. For the clients, who are at first employed here on a day-to-day basis with the possibility to be then employed for nine months in a transition phase, work is a first step into a new life. "For me, work means stability and reliability, but also social contacts," says one of the clients.