Irish companies enjoy free and unfettered access to markets across Europe. Nevertheless, challenges remain. One of these is language.
In terms of language proficiency, Ireland lags behind other EU members, particularly those in the west of the continent. However, language proficiency, and the cultural understanding it facilitates, are essential for Irish companies aiming to be taken seriously in overseas markets.
Enterprise Ireland actively encourages clients to build on current staff language skills and recruit staff with relevant language skills.
Our GradStart initiative helps companies overcome this barrier with the recruitment of graduates to develop and expand their business.
GradStart provides financial support for a company to recruit up to three graduates. This covers 50pc of a graduate's yearly salary, up to a maximum of €15,000a year in grant aid (ie a salary of €30,000) for two years, depending on certain conditions. For graduates with proficiency in a language relevant to the business, the grant increases to 70pc of the salary, up to a maximum of €21,000 a year for two years.
While graduates hired under the GradStart programme cannot be assigned to direct sales roles, they add enormous value in areas crucial to successful market entry and growth, including market analysis, research on competitors and marketplace profiling. Having a direct knowledge of local language and culture is essential for these activities.
One Enterprise Ireland-backed firm to benefit is IMS Labels, hiring a graduate who speaks Portuguese, Italian, Spanish and English. Commercial director Steven Burke says, "The Enterprise Ireland GradStart programme has not only enabled IMS Labels to rapidly develop our expertise through highly skilled graduates, it gave us an instant advantage in our international target markets through multilanguage capability."
Another client to benefit is contract manufacturer Keltech, who hired a German-speaking graduate. "English is the universal business language," says business development manager, Seamus Lawlor. "However, we felt that certain opportunities were not being realised by not speaking our clients' mother tongue. The introduction of our native German-speaking graduate in 2018 bridged this gap. Our clients are genuinely impressed that we have taken the time and effort to recruit a multilingual employee who can dive deeper into their requirements through their native language."
EI's six offices in the eurozone deliver one-to-one service, assisting companies with advice and support on developing business in these markets; our Market Research Centre provides detailed market intelligence; our #IrishAdvantage platform promotes exporters to international buyers in six European languages, and we run Eurozone-focused events, including the Eurozone Summit, taking place in Dublin's Convention Centre on February 21st.
Developing in-house capability in eurozone languages is hugely important to ensure that our clients optimise this support. GradStart is just one of many supports that can help companies address challenges and meet growth ambitions. Brexit or otherwise, there is a need to build Irish exports in mainland Europe, and language should not be a barrier.
While the eurozone is one of our closest markets and has diverse language requirements, language proficiency is also often crucial in Asia, where English is not as widely spoken and cultural sensitivity can be essential to success. GradStart can help companies to recruit graduates from Asia who have studied here and are interested in new opportunities.
Those wishing to avail of support under GradStart should contact their Enterprise Ireland development adviser. They will guide you through the process and assess if you are eligible for support to employ one, two, or three graduates. Companies can also register for our Eurozone Summit, a half-day event, open to all, which will highlight how firms are winning business in the eurozone.