SFA E-zine - The Wednesday Edition

Dear Member, 


Welcome to this edition of the SFA e-zine.


We are pleased to announce Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Richard Bruton TD will give the keynote address at our Smart Business Conference, taking place on Thursday, 2 May at the Aviva Stadium Dublin. We still have a few spaces left so book your place now.


Our Brexit update focuses on the newly launched €300 million Future Growth Loan Scheme for SMEs and farmers.


Good news for the construction, transport and sporting sectors a number of changes have been made to the employment permits system for non-EEA employees to address labour shortages in these industries.


Recruitment is the number one issue impacting businesses of all sizes right now but how can a small business secure the right people in this current climate? Our Grow, Scale, Succeed platform has a number of resources to help your business find the right people. 


When consulting with our members for the recent SFA Skillnet funding application, many had questions about how to correctly identify the training needs for themselves and their staff. As a result, we have put together some steps on how to assess training needs in your organisation.

A new report on Micro-Businesses in Ireland looks at the ambitions, growth aspirations, innovation levels and digital technology adoption of Irish micro-businesses.


The final event in our Digital Marketing Masterclass takes place on 9 May focusing on improving your digital marketing strategy’s Conversion Rate Optimisation across all platforms. Bookings are now open for the next Business Bytes session on 15 May. We also provide a summary of recent press coverage.


As always, we’d love to hear from you about any queries you may have, issues you wish to have raised with Government or other stakeholders and your ideas on how we can improve the business environment for us all. Please contact me on tel: 01 605 1602 or e-mail: sven@sfa.ie or tweet: @SFA_Irl or visit: www.sfa.ie.


Kind regards, 

Sven Spollen-Behrens

SFA Director

Recent press coverage


Smart Business Conference

Irish Banking Culture Board

SFA Awards



The SFA was referred to in an article in the Irish Times on 12 April regarding SME’s preparedness.


Smart Business Conference

The launch of the Smart Business Conference was announced via press release on 16 April. This was covered in the Tipperary Star on 18 April. 


Irish Banking Culture Board 

Sue O’Neill, chair of the Small Firms Association, appointment to the Irish Banking Culture Board was covered in the Irish Times and Irish Independent on 16 April.


SFA Awards

The winners of the Awards were announced via press release on 8 March. Recently this was covered in: 

  • Shelflife - 1 April
  • The Echo - 10 April
Brexit advice

Applications are now open for the recently launched Future Growth Loan Scheme. This new loan scheme makes €300 million available to eligible Irish SMEs including farmers with up to 499 employees.

In April the Government launched the Future Growth Loan Scheme to provide affordable financing to SMEs and the primary agriculture and seafood sectors to support strategic long-term investment in a post Brexit environment. The Scheme, which will be delivered by the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI) through commercial lenders and makes €300 million available to eligible businesses with up to 499 employees.


Loan features:

  • Loan amount from €100,000 (€50,000 for primary agriculture) up to a maximum of €3,000,000
  • Loan term from a minimum of 8 years to a maximum of 10 years
  • Loans less than €500,000 will be unsecured
  • Interest rate of 4.5% for loans up to €249,999 and 3.5% and less for loans greater than or equal to €250,000.


Loans can be used for:

  • Investment in tangible or intangible assets to increase productivity and/or efficiency, set up a new establishment or the extension of an existing one.
  • Investment in diversification into new additional products or a change in a production process.
  • Investment in tangible or intangible assets for process and organisational innovation.
  • Investment in tangible and intangible assets on agricultural holdings linked to primary agricultural production. (excludes purchase of land (other than site costs) or livestock)
  • Investment in connection with the processing and marketing of agricultural products.

How to apply for a loan:

  • Businesses can now apply for loan eligibility through the SBCI
  • If the SBCI determines that the Applicant is eligible it will confirm that to the Applicant in writing
  • The Applicant must provide this eligibility confirmation letter to the relevant Financial Institution when applying for a loan.


For more information on this or another Brexit issue contact Elizabeth on 01 605 1626 or elizabeth.bowen@sfa.ie. 

New changes to the employment permits system for non-EEA employees

Good news for the construction, transport and sporting sectors as a number of changes have been made to the employment permits system for non-EEA employees that will benefit these sectors... 

The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) has introduced a number of changes to the employment permit system for non-EEA employees. These changes have been introduced to address the labour shortages in the construction, transportation and sports sectors.


The Department conduct a comprehensive review twice a year to assess if they need to make changes to the employment permit system, namely the Critical Skills and Ineligible Lists of Occupations.


This is an evidence-based process that takes account of labour market conditions and submissions from sectors and other stakeholders which included input from the SFA who received input from the wider SFA membership. In addition, the DBEI considered background issues such as Brexit.  


The DBEI have updated the Critical Skills List of Occupations to include the following occupations to the list:

  • Civil engineers
  • Quantity surveyors
  • Construction project managers
  • Mechanical and electrical engineers with BIM capabilities
  • High Performance Directors and Coaches for high-level sports organisations 

This means that these additional occupations will qualify for a Critical Skills Employment permit as of 22 April 2019

The department have removed a number of occupations from the Ineligible List of Occupations. This means that the below occupations can now qualify for a General Employment Permit from 22 April 2019:

  • Sheet metal workers
  • Welding trades
  • Pipefitters
  • Air-Conditioning & Refrigeration Engineers       
  • Shuttering Carpenters
  • Glaziers, window fabricators & fitters
  • Scaffolders, stagers & riggers
  • Crane drivers
  • Career guidance teachers (secondary schools)

In addition, they have removed the additional occupations from the Ineligible List of Occupations by quota, which means they will qualify for a General Employment Permit up to the quota number detailed below:

  • Transport and Distribution Clerks and Assistants (Freight Forwarders; Cargo & Freight Agents; Brokerage Clerks) subject to a quota of 300,
  • Plasterers subject to a quota of 250
  • Bricklayers subject to a quota of 250

The nine types of employment permits are as follows:


Critical skills employment permit

The critical skills employment permit is designed to attract highly skilled people into the Irish labour market and aims to encourage them to take up permanent residence in the State. This permit is only valid in relation to roles that are listed on the Highly Skilled Eligible Occupations List which you can view here. There is no need to conduct a labour market test for these employment permit types.


General employment permit

The general employment permit is the main type of employment permit that is used by the State to attract 3rd country nationals for occupations that are experiencing a labour or skills shortage. It allows for a broader range of occupations than the Highly Skilled Eligible Occupations List. However, there are a number of occupations that are ineligible and will not qualify under this type of permit. You can view the Ineligible Categories of Employment List here. A labour market test is required for this permit type.


Dependant/partner/spouse employment permit

The dependant/partner/spouse employment permit allows the dependants, civil partners, and spouses of certain categories of employment permit holder, known as the primary permit holder to apply for an employment permit to work in the State. It does not require a labour test.


Reactivation employment permit

The reactivation employment permit is used for situations where a foreign national who previously had a valid Employment Permit but who fell out of the system through no fault of their own or who has been badly treated or exploited in the workplace. This permit allows them to work legally again in the State.


Intra-company transfer employment permit

The intra-company transfer employment permit is designed to allow the transfer of senior management, key personnel or trainees who are non-EEA nationals from an overseas branch of a multinational corporation to its Irish branch.


Internship employment permit

The internship employment permit facilitates the employment of foreign nationals who are full-time students and who are enrolled in a third level institution outside the State, for the purpose of gaining work experience within the State. The internship can only be one of the occupations listed in the Highly Skilled Eligible Occupations List and their course of study must be relevant to that list. At the end of the internship the employee must leave the State.


Contract for services employment permit

The contract for services employment permit is specific to a foreign undertaking / contractor that has won a contract to provide services to an Irish entity on a contract for services basis and it allows the transfer of non-EEA employees to work on that Irish contract in Ireland.


Sport and cultural employment permit

The sport and cultural employment permit is specifically designed to allow foreign nationals to work in the sport and cultural sectors.


Exchange Agreement employment permit

The exchange agreement employment permit is used to facilitate the employment of foreign nationals in the State, in line with prescribed agreements or other international agreements. An example of this is the Fulbright Programme.


If you have any specific concerns or questions please contact Helen on 01 605 1668 or at helen.quinn@sfa.ie or visit the advice section on our website www.sfa.ie/advice


Recruitment is the number one issue impacting businesses of all sizes right now but how can a small business secure the right people in this current climate? Our Grow, Scale, Succeed platform has a number of resources to help your business find the right people...

Finding and attracting the right people is one of the biggest challenges for members of the SFA and the wider small business community right now. Small businesses worry that they cannot compete against larger companies for staff in terms of pay and benefits. The employment market is almost at full capacity with unemployment at 5.3% and wages have been increasing since 2016. Small businesses are experiencing growth but are constrained by rising costs and increased competitiveness.


These factors make recruitment challenging for the small business community as they need to rapidly expand but are often time poor. The extreme of this challenge is that small businesses cannot grow as they lack the necessary staff to scale up and meet customer demands. In response to this recruitment crisis, the SFA developed the Grow, Scale, Succeed platform to equip small businesses with some recruitment resources.


Why not check out our three video case studies who share their recruitment tips and strategies. Justina Gavin of Drumanilra Farm shares how Facebook not only helped them source new staff but it also increased their business profile at the same time. She also shares the benefits of using government employment agencies if your business is on a tight budget. PJ Timmons explains how psychometric testing can help you avoid a bad hire and help you in the interview process with those all important questions and Jimmy Sheehan of Contracting Plus shares how hiring contractors can save your business time and money if you need someone fast.


You can listen to our podcast whilst on the go where we share 5 tips for creating an impactful job description and get the right hire for your business. We also have a section on GDPR and recruitment, the benefits of hiring part time employees and much more at https://www.sfa.ie/growscalesucceed


If you have any specific concerns or questions please contact Helen on 01 605 1668 or at helen.quinn@sfa.ie or visit the advice section on our website www.sfa.ie/advice .


When consulting with our members for the recent SFA Skillnet funding application, many had questions about how to correctly identify the training needs for themselves and their staff. As a result, we have put together some steps on how you can assess training needs in your organisation...

Let our SFA Skillnet 3 Stage Process help you devise a skills audit and figure out what your training needs are. Whether you are operating on your own or with employees, you will need to keep your business up to date and aligned with your strategy. Consider the following steps to help you identify any gaps in your organisation’s skills:


  1. Business Assessment: are you clear on your business strategy? Do you know where you want the business to be in the next 3-5 years?
  2. Skills Audit: measure the skills in the business and determine if there are any gaps that need addressing. Owner managers should remember to address their own skills as well
  3. Training Needs Analysis: develop a training plan to address the workforce skills gap. Consider incorporating this in to a personal development plan for each employee.


Please contact Geraldine Lavin, SFA Skillnet Network Manager, on geraldine.lavin@sfa.ie or 01 6051606 to discuss your training needs and to get assistance with your training analysis.


The SFA Skillnet is co-funded by Skillnet Ireland and member companies. Skillnet Ireland is funded from the National Training Fund through the Department of Education and Skills.

Majority of Irish small businesses keen to remain at current scale, study finds

Irish small businesses are content to keep their business to their current scale, with only 1 in 4 looking to grow into a national or international business, a University College Cork (UCC) study, finds...

On 3 April, Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh officially launched a new publication on Micro-Businesses in Ireland: From Ambition to Innovation and is the result of a collaboration between the Spatial and Regional Economics Research Centre (SRERC) at Cork University Business School, University College Cork and the UK’s Enterprise Research Centre (ERC).  


The publication describes new and unique survey data on established micro-businesses with 1-9 employees in Ireland. The report focuses on the ambitions – business and personal- of the owners, as well as innovative activity and the uptake of digital technology within microbusinesses.


In Ireland, most micro-businesses are mature, and many are home-based. They are closely related to the families which own and run them.


The below summarises the key-findings:


A Story of Ambition – for the business, for the individual

  • An ambitious 27 per cent of micro-business in Ireland want to build a national or international business, while 71 per cent of micro-businesses emphasise the importance of keeping their business similar to how it operates now.
  • Over 80 per cent of micro-business owners report ‘freedom to adapt my own approach to work’ and ‘greater flexibility for personal and family life’ as key personal motivators.
  • Micro-businesses in the West (Galway & Galway City, Mayo & Roscommon) are amongst the most ambitious in the country.
  • Micro-businesses in the Border region (Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Monaghan, Sligo) reveal a low ambition profile.
  • One-third of micro-businesses in Dublin consider growth to be an important ambition. However, micro-businesses based in Dublin are not markedly more ambitious than micro-businesses across the country.
  • In the South-East (Carlow, Kilkenny, Wexford, Waterford & Waterford City), microbusiness owners are more likely to emphasise personal rather than business ambitions.
  • Profiles of ambition for male and female business owners are largely similar. 3 Innovation - new products, new services, new ways of doing things
  • Levels of innovation in Irish micro-businesses in Ireland are higher than those in the UK and USA.
  • One in four micro-businesses introduced new business models or forms of organisation in the three years prior to the survey.
  • The percentage of sales derived from innovative products and/or services is approximately 11 per cent.

Uptake of Digital Technology: Trends & Patterns

  • From a relatively low base in 2012, diffusion of digital technologies by microbusinesses in Ireland is strong and growing.
  • Uptake of digital technologies by micro-businesses in Ireland compares well with those in the UK and is considerably higher than those in the USA.
  • The most popular digital technologies among micro-businesses in Ireland are Cloud Computing and Web-based Accounting Software, with 40 per cent of micro-firms using these technologies.
  • 34 per cent of micro-businesses in Ireland are using E-Commerce, while 26 per cent and 17 per cent are using Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) respectively.
  • There is little variation in the average number of technologies adopted by microbusinesses across the regions of Ireland.
  • However, approximately one in four micro-businesses have not adopted any digital technology.

Download the full report.

SFA Smart Business Conference 2019
  • 2 May

We are pleased to announce Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Richard Bruton TD will give the keynote address at the Smart Business Conference. 


At the conference delegates will hear from experts such as Dr Paul Redmond, one of the UK’s leading authorities on generational change and the future of work. Attendees will learn from other small businesses on how they transformed their business models using emerging technologies. A discussion on whether Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a job changer or job creator will be held and Clare Dillon, Technology Evangelist at Clare Dillon Consulting, will speak on the opportunities presented by the latest trends in technology, from AI to Virtual Reality.


The SFA Smart Business Conference website is now live where you can find full details of our great line-up of speakers. 

  • Date: 2 May
  • Time: 08:30  2:00pm
  • Venue: The Aviva Stadium, Dublin 4

The cost of the event is €49 plus VAT for SFA members and €89 plus VAT for non-members. Join us on 2 May to be part of the conversation. Book your tickets online now.

Business Bytes: Employment law seminar
  • 15 May, Dublin
  • 29 May, Cork

The SFA Business Bytes events, which are entirely free of charge, offer small businesses access to expert information and advice and an opportunity to network with their peers. The series is supported by Bord Gáis Energy.


During the month of May we are hosting two events in this series, one in Dublin and one in Cork.


Dublin event

  • Date: Wednesday, 15 May 2019
  • Time: 5:00pm – 7:00pm
  • Venue: SFA Offices, 84-86 Lower Baggot St, Dublin 2

Cork event

  • Date: Wednesday, 29 May 2019
  • Time: 5:00pm – 7:00pm
  • Venue: Maryborough Hotel, Maryborough Hill, Douglas, Co. Cork

With so many changes taking place in today’s workplace an understanding of employment laws is now more essential than ever before. In these Business Bytes event we will cover the following to help your business approach these changes:

  1.  Contracts of employment and recent legislative changes to them;
  2. Need to hire but want to understand the different types of working scenarios available to your business from hiring part timers to remote workers; and
  3. What you need to know when hiring a self-employed contractor.

The presentation will be delivered by Helen Quinn, the SFA’s in-house HR and employment law advisor.  


The event is open to SFA members and non-members. It will last for approximately one hour with an opportunity to network before and after. Refreshments will be provided.


These events are entirely free of charge, but you must pre-register:

Upcoming digital marketing masterclass on 9 May

The final masterclass in our digital marketing series will focus on online advertising and increasing your business conversion rate optimisation. Our expert speakers in the area of online advertising will bring practical examples that can used in any company’s digital marketing strategy...

In 2019 the SFA is offering courses designed to address the needs of small businesses. Important versus urgent is a key distinction for small firms, but one which is not always easy to make.

Is too much of your time spent on tasks and meetings that seem urgent but are not important for the future of your business? At SFA, we’re here to help you create time for things that can make a real difference, like developing management capacity and other skills for you and your staff. The SFA training offering for 2019 contains an interesting mix of courses – online and offline – to enhance key skills in your business.

They are delivered by expert trainers with many years of industry experience. Based on your feedback, the courses are short, so that you can get on with running your business. Now is the time to plan your training calendar for 2019 – to make sure that vital upskilling does not get usurped by the urgent but non-important day-to-day distractions. Below are the training courses, dates and booking links. You can also find more information in our brochure.