Resilient Irish entrepreneurs will increase headcount - but talent is an issue

Gary McDonald Business Editor

VIRTUALLY every privately-owned business in Ireland intends to increase its headcount in the next 12 months - providing it can unearth the appropriate talent.

And despite the dual headwinds of Brexit and Covid-19, owners insist the outlook remains bright.

That optimism comes through in the latest EY Entrepreneur of the Year alumni survey, an annual barometer looking at the key issues impacting entrepreneurs on the island of Ireland.

It surveys those men and women who've taken part in the EoY initiative, which has been running for 24 years and which has an alumni of more than 500.

In that time, the EoY alumni family has done business running into tens of billions of pounds and supplied work for many thousands of people.

Nearly nine in 10 respondents (88 per cent) say they intend to add staff in the next year, but 96 per cent cite talent issues as a major challenge to growing their business – both the availability of a skilled workforce and the ability to attract and retain the right talent.

While 40 per cent said access to funding was an impediment to growth, just 21 per cent said the implications of Covid were a major challenge to expansion.

Some 44 per cent perceive the post Brexit NI market as presenting new opportunities via access to both the UK and EU markets, while over the next three years 40 per cent plan to expand into global markets and create new business models.

A further 29 per cent of entrepreneurs surveyed said they had made a business investment with a fellow member of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year alumni community, turning to each other for funding or when seeking investment opportunities.

Rob Heron, partner lead for the EoY initiative in the north said: “These results have overwhelmingly demonstrated strength of Irish and Northern Irish privately-owned business and entrepreneurs.

“The world has changed irrevocably due to the pandemic, but talent and financing still dominate the list of concerns for entrepreneurs, and this varies only modestly across geographies and sectors.

“Finding, nurturing and retaining talent in a competitive global market is critical and it's vital to the economy that policy makers and business leaders tackle these issues head on.”

Neil Gibson, chief economist at EY Ireland, said: “The macro economic data points to a sharper recovery from the pandemic across the island than most forecasters predicted, and this survey results show us that our entrepreneurial family are also beating expectations.

“Despite challenges that no business plan will have prepared them for, many have pivoted to seize new opportunities or completely changed their ways of working and their business model from what they had originally planned.

“This solution-focussed, nimble, problem-solving mind set is a stark reminder that even in an ever more digital and technologically driven world, talented people remain core to the island's future.”

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