Managing Director Wolfgang Rosskopf of Kiess Innenausbau, a joinery company based in Stuttgart, highlights the hurdles faced by their team of 50 employees operating in foreign countries.

Wolfgang Rosskopf recommend that craft businesses seek advice on foreign business and train urgently needed skilled workers in Germany.

Mr Rosskopf, how would you describe the current mood and order situation in your company? What are your expectations for the near future?

Our current order situation is favorable, but we are experiencing concerns due to the lack of long-term visibility. Our planning has become more short-term, and we are uncertain about what to expect in the coming year. However, at present, our order situation remains positive.

What makes the joinery Kiess so good that even customers abroad have become aware of them?

We specialize in manufacturing custom products for our clients, particularly in unique areas such as ESD floors and elevator cladding. These specialized solutions have allowed us to differentiate ourselves and attract new, exciting projects over the years, resulting in strong sales. We have been actively operating in foreign countries for an extended period, and this continues to be the case presently.

How did you come to the attention of your international customers?

Our primary presence in foreign markets is through collaborations with other companies. For instance, we work with shopfitters in Switzerland and are presently engaged with staircase manufacturers in Luxembourg. Additionally, we are involved with elevator manufacturers in various other countries as well.

“Given the prevailing circumstances, the issue of payment and cash flow management has become particularly significant.”

Which foreign markets are the most crucial for your business?

Identifying our primary foreign markets is not a fixed proposition as it changes over time. It largely depends on the specific projects we undertake. While we have had a strong presence in Switzerland for an extended period, our involvement in the Middle East has decreased in recent years. Previously, we were active in Russia, but currently, we are unable to pursue projects there.

When considering foreign projects, how does a smaller company like yours manage the execution and meet the heightened demands of international business?

Expanding into foreign markets is challenging and complex. We receive valuable assistance from the Chamber of Crafts and their organization, Handicrafts International, which provides crucial information on regulatory frameworks. Different requirements in various European countries pose additional challenges. Ensuring a secure flow of payment is a significant concern in distant countries. However, through our experience and knowledge, we have implemented strategies to successfully handle such business ventures while maintaining financial stability.

Have you also provided apprenticeship wages in the past?

Certainly, we have provided apprenticeship wages in the past. This is because situations in our clients’ countries can undergo rapid changes. For instance, we previously worked in oil-rich nations. However, when the price of oil declined and financial resources became scarce among our clientele, it naturally had an impact on our company as well.

“Finding fully trained employees from abroad who can immediately work for us is simply not possible.”

What advice would you have for newcomers to foreign markets?

I recommend seeking advice from Handwerk International for valuable insights on foreign business operations. It’s important to understand the factors to consider and pay special attention to secure payment processing tailored to the specific requirements of each country you operate in.

Let’s discuss the shortage of skilled workers, which is a common problem in the craft industry. How does this shortage impact your company?

We are also experiencing increasing difficulty in finding skilled workers. The availability of technicians, engineers, and master craftsmen in the market has significantly decreased compared to before. This trend is expected to continue in the coming years, and it poses a significant challenge for us. To address this issue, we are actively focusing on training and upskilling our existing workforce. We have had positive experiences with training migrants, but it is crucial to start early in the process. It’s important to note that individuals don’t come to us fully trained and ready-made; instead, there is a need for extensive training, especially considering the technology we utilize in our company. While we strive to compensate for the shortage of skilled workers, the scarcity is still a notable concern.

To recruit skilled workers from abroad – could this be a solution for you?

Up until now, I have no experience with bringing in trained individuals from abroad. It seems extremely challenging to bring fully trained personnel here. In our case, we have trained all our employees locally in Germany. We often encounter individuals who express interest in joining our company, and we provide the necessary training to suit our requirements. Allow me to provide an example. We have an employee in our work preparation department who studied architecture in Iran but had to discontinue his studies due to fleeing the country. We took the initiative to train him, and he has become an exceptional employee. Of course, we had to assist him in adapting to our labor market. I believe this approach could be the way forward. However, it’s unlikely that we will find fully trained employees who can seamlessly integrate into our company without any further training or support.

Do you perceive limitations in terms of communication within the team or with customers that contribute to the difficulty of bringing in fully trained employees?

The challenges of bringing in fully trained employees primarily stem from the lack of practical know-how and experience gained through training abroad. However, communication plays a crucial role overall. It is essential for learning the specific technologies we employ in our company and ensuring effective knowledge transfer.

“Technicians, engineers, masters are now less and less on the market, it was different in the past. We can already see that this will keep us busy for the next few years.”

Kiess Innenausbau addresses the shortage of skilled workers by emphasizing the value of practical education and in-house training.