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Rural Development in
the Information Society

"The future depends on training"

Werner Kräutler [Sall-Wöll-Ötztal LEADER, Tyrol, Austria]

The future of Europe's rural environment also depends on mastering communication technologies. The Ötztal Telecentre, in Umhausen (Tyrol), specifically aims to encourage people to acquire the necessary skills to be used in these new technologies.

It was two farmers who came to find out about the possibilities of IT training that gave the LEADER group the idea to create a "telecentre" in the Ötz Valley. That was in December 1996, and in less than six months, the GAL had succeeded in making the "TeleZentrum Ötztal" operational, co-financed to the tune of ECU 143 000 by the European Union (40%), the Land of Tyrol (30%) and the Federal Government (30%).

Comprising classrooms equipped with 10 computers, the telecentre broke new ground by developing a training programme entitled "IT for farmers". This programme was 64 hours long (4 hours per week for 16 weeks), given three times a year and is now known about and recognised nationally : the Chambers of Agriculture of four Austrian Länder have in fact "imported" the method themselves. About 100 farmers from the valley have already completed the course while 250 others are currently following it elsewhere in Austria.

The approach chosen for the TeleZentrum is a result of the conclusions of the study that the LEADER group had commissioned from a scientific journalist from Vienna. It involved "analysing the needs of households in terms of IT in the context of Austria", with the aim of identifying new activities and sources of income - in particular telework - based on the use of communication technologies.

In this respect, the results of the study placed great emphasis on the importance of training. However, potential users of IT applications often live far away from training facilities. It was therefore the responsibility of these training facilities to go to the users and not the other way round. This led to the idea of setting up a telecentre in the Ötz Valley.

The Directors of the Ötztal TeleZentrum like to compare this to a driving school, in the sense that following the example of driving a car, telework requires the acquisition of a certain basic knowledge. The centre's other principle is that "practice makes perfect".

The IT lessons given by the centre therefore consist in training sessions heavily centred on practice, while covering a wide range of IT know-how : word processing, accountancy software, computer graphics, layout, etc.

The approach has already borne fruit : since October 1998, seven women farmers from the valley, who all followed the training course, have supplemented their income by encoding data for a large Tyrolian company. Other projects will be implemented in January 1999 : the creation of websites and the provision of technical assistance to companies, particularly in terms of electronic commerce. But the training given at the telecentre firstly aims to enable participants to acquire skills that they can rapidly and effectively use in their jobs. In the case of the module "IT for women farmers", for example, participants had to manage a "virtual farm", as well as an "ideal" farm based on a computer programme into which the main organisational parameters of a farm had been integrated.

The Ötztal TeleZentrum also offers courses in other domains : accountancy, administration, letter-writing, graphics and layout, public relations techniques, marketing, etc.

The telecentre is currently developing an IT course intended specifically for women. The first session will begin in Spring 1999. Just like the module "IT for women farmers", this training course will be offered in other Austrian rural areas.

Since November 1998, the Ötztal TeleZentrum has also become a teleworking centre, providing four offices to around 10 teleworkers who manage the Internet site of a large Austrian record dealer using electronic commerce (50 000 products listed).

Six months ago, the Internet did not mean very much to the inhabitants of Ötztal. Even tourist operators - tourism is the main economic sector in the valley, which receives approximately 2.5 million visitors every year - did not see the point of a website. Today, thanks to the "Introduction to the Internet" module aimed at adults and the "discussion forums" and "Internet Café" created more for young people, there is a real craze for the Net.

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source: LEADER Magazine nr.19 - Winter, 98-99

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