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Talent trumps Brexit as the biggest challenge for entrepreneurs in Ireland

Alumni Survey

With just three weeks to go until the Brexit deadline, 31% of Irish entrepreneurs say Brexit is an obstacle to growing their business, versus the overwhelming majority (83%) for whom the ability to attract and retain talent and availability of a skilled workforce is an impediment to growth. The annual barometer of issues impacting entrepreneurs was conducted among 150 business leaders across the island of Ireland, all of whom are former finalists or winners of the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™.

In 2018, 81% of entrepreneurs increased their workforce, while 88% intend to grow headcount in 2019, creating a projected 8,500 additional jobs. However, concerns around skills shortages are high, with 74% of entrepreneurs saying they faced challenges finding experienced hires in the last year, and a further 34% saying that they can’t find staff with the right skills in Ireland. 50% said that retaining talent had been a challenge.

Kevin McLoughlin, Head of Tax and Partner Lead for EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ said: “While Brexit continues to dominate the headlines, insight from the entrepreneurial community throws up some interesting narratives around challenges for business in Ireland. The reality is that skills shortages and problems recruiting the right staff are far more pressing concerns for business owners in Ireland today. Irish entrepreneurs are creating huge employment, but their growth is being stifled because they can’t get the right people. It’s vital to the economy that policy makers and business leaders don’t make Brexit the answer to every problem; sharp focus is needed to tackle the issue before Ireland becomes a victim of its own success.”

As talent challenges intensify, the survey findings show that Ireland’s entrepreneurs are keenly focused on retention as they battle the issues at hand. There is an almost-unanimous (99%) agreement that investing in training staff is critical to success, while 87% say the same providing a flexible working environment. A further 87% say Diversity & Inclusion is important.

Daniel Mackey, Co-Founder of Teamwork, EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ 2018 winner said “There are a lot of challenges in recruitment at the moment, particularly in the IT sector where Irish companies are competing with the large multinationals. Companies have to be clever about making sure they are able to keep the staff they have but also create a fun, welcoming culture that helps to attract the best talent. At the end of the day your staff are the biggest asset to the company. If they aren’t happy, you’re not going to be able to grow the company and hit the targets you’ve set.”

As the deadline looms, Brexit remains a concern for businesses across the Island; however, 44% say that it has not yet had an impact on their business. 70% of entrepreneurs in the Republic say that Brexit presents an opportunity, while 55% of entrepreneurs in Northern Ireland say the same.

Neil Gibson, Chief Economist, EY Ireland said: ‘The scale of socio-economic challenges ahead across the island are significant. The EOY alumni strike a positive tone but recognise the difficulties ahead. Talent dominates the list of concerns and varies only modestly across geographies and sectors, reflecting the increasingly tight labour market on the island. With a broad sectoral and geographical spread the importance of the entrepreneurial family is considerable as it is creating jobs and generating wealth that may not be easily replaced.”

This EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ Alumni community now numbers more than 500 people, with a combined revenue of €17.5bn, employing more than 166,000 people across the island of Ireland.

DOWNLOAD: EOY Brochure Survey Results Spring Energiser 2019