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55% of Northern Ireland’s entrepreneurs see opportunity in Brexit

With just three weeks to go until the Brexit deadline, 55% of Northern Ireland’s entrepreneurs say it presents an opportunity for them, while 77% of entrepreneurs in the Republic say the same.

Despite Brexit’s dominance of headlines North and South, issues around availability of talent are a more pressing concern for entrepreneurs around the island of Ireland. 31% of 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™.

Rob Heron, Partner Lead for EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ in Northern Ireland, said: “Entrepreneurs across the island of Ireland, North and South of the border are facing into what could potentially be a turbulent few months. However, with 55% of our Northern Ireland-based entrepreneurs saying Brexit presents an opportunity for their business, the inherent optimism of the entrepreneurial community continues to overshadow the challenges ahead.

“94% of the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ alumni community based in the North – export to the Republic, meaning any tariffs or trade barriers on the Island post Brexit would create obstacles to growth. In this context, it is more important than ever that business leaders continue to work together to ensure that the close relationships forged over recent years continue to be developed.”

In 2018, 81% of entrepreneurs across the island of Ireland 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.

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.

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.