Last winter Yle TV1 showed a series called “Pelastetaan duunit” (“Saving jobs”), introducing the daily life and challenges of mechanical engineering and metal product companies. According to a survey by Taloustutkimus, entrepreneurs felt that the portrayal matched their view of the situation rather well, but afterwards one can’t help but wonder if this was the entire picture.

The current global changes have affected all industries, particularly the Finnish subcontracting industry. Customers have left Finland and they have not been replaced by new ones. Competition has also become tougher, not only in terms of pricing, but Finland is no longer the only country providing high quality.           The Finnish subcontracting industry learned to rely on Finnish contractors during the strong economic upturn between 2002 and 2008. The challenge for a supplier was to secure supply and capacity, not a small number of customers. There was no time to consider in which direction the world was heading as they had to “strike while the iron was hot”. When the 2008-2009 credit crunch revealed the unpleasant change and its consequences, not all companies believed that change was needed so they kept waiting for the old times to return.

The old times have not come back. Instead, new winds are blowing. What this means in practice is that companies have to change the way they operate. This change requires new resources, possibly more funding and it has to be done quickly, otherwise you will fall behind. Companies have to go out into the world to find their customers, know how to build global networks to enhance their purchasing activities and consider how to improve their own operations. The challenge for companies is to understand how to do this and where to find help.

This question probably puzzles many companies and their owners wrestling with changes. It is not easy to get help as there is no one particular place to contact. However, there are several of them. Finnvera has responded to the changes well in terms of funding, but the challenge is greater than that with regard to export. Finpro’s funding and activities have been cut and its new operational model is currently being introduced, so there is no proof of its success yet. Tekes still continues its creditable activities supporting development and innovation.

The greatest challenge, however, probably is to find new managers and international talents. The number of potential experienced international Finnish talents (managers) has probably increased, but major international companies usually come out on top when fighting for their input. The study options available at least have not changed. Lifim has been gone for almost a decade, JOT, Fintra and Infor are now part of Soprano and MBA studies do not seem to be appealing for some reason. There are also fewer options available and the further education opportunities for operative management have not increased. On the other hand, during an economic downturn companies do not have the time or the money to invest in the further education of the managers or other employees.

Is education and competence the basis for everything? Of course one has to have a basic understanding of the challenges and market requirements. Internationalization is, however, more based on experience and it cannot be learned from books, but rather by doing. You have to be able to assess your resources correctly, have a sufficient amount of information about the market and a touch of courage and determination to access new markets. The old saying “if there is a will, there is a way” probably holds true in this case as well.

Mauri Heikintalo
Leading Specialist

The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra is a future-oriented organisation that promotes Finland’s competitiveness and the well-being of the Finnish people. We anticipate societal change, try out new operating models and accelerate business activities aimed at creating sustainable well-being.