Chamber News

T4E 2020 Digital

While the majority of Waterford Chamber's events have fallen victim to Covid-19, CEO Gerald Hurley says they refused to give up on Toys4Enginners, one of their most popular events.

“Toys4Engineers is now in its fourth year and has become the perfect platform to connect like-minded people from across Ireland and beyond in the area of engineering, be it in pharma, research, ICT, tech and so on.

“Ultimately the aim of the event is to showcase companies and encourage them to do business and the success of that has been noted with various contracts that were done over the past number of years.

“To date, the event has been held in WIT Arena, but in light of Covid-19, it has now moved to a digital platform and instead of one single day, it will run from October 6th to 8th via www.toys4engineers.ie. There was just no way we could let it go and we are delighted to have the full backing of Waterford City & County Council as our event partners. We enjoy putting it together too much and the ethos of the event is around innovation, so we challenged ourselves to embrace that and come up with a new format that would appeal to everyone. We have gathered some of the brightest minds in the country for our panel discussions and they will cover a broad spectrum of topics, from robotics and automation to pharma and agri-tech”.

There are four key elements to this year’s event, a digital expo, which is designed to showcase products and services through video. Then we have the conferences, which will be held daily and moderated by industry professionals and these are kindly supported by IDA Ireland, Cobotics Skillnet and Waterford Local Enterprise Office.

“Running concurrently and in association with IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, there’s Meet the Buyer. This will be done in a private capacity and aims to connect indigenous companies and multi-nationals. Finally, we have our recruitment element, in partnership with Crystal Valley Tech, which is designed to promote Waterford and the South East as a great place to live, work and do business, with hundreds of live roles being advertised and private meetings being held between candidates and recruiters.”

All elements, except for the digital expo, are completely free. To showcase your products or services, we are offering you a digital platform to a target audience. This includes the filming and editing of your own video, which you can keep for further use and which will also feature on www.toys4engineers.ie for the year ahead, as well as social media promotion. It will also be shown each day of our online event.

If you would like to take place in our digital expo please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Toys4Engineers is kindly supported by Waterford City & County Council, IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, Engineering South East, Waterford Institute of Technology, Waterford Chamber Skillnet, Cobotics Skillnet, Waterford Local Enterprise Office and Metalman Engineering.

 

 

Chambers Ireland today (22 September 2020) launches new data on engagement with training and life-long learning between the months of March and June. The survey polled businesses and employees to find out whether businesses were upskilling in response to COVID-19, and if so, how and what they were training in.

The data found that:

  • 1021 Businesses participated in the skills questionnaire
  • 867 were employers
  • 69% of businesses which have employees conducted training over the Covid-19 lockdown period
  • 52% of business operators participated in training during the Covid-19 lockdown period, including 68% of sole traders
  • Those who are working from home were mostly likely to engage with training
  • Outside of general CPD, the most popular topics for training included COVID-19 related issues, technical skills development, management skills and marketing

Speaking in response to the findings, Chambers Ireland President Siobhán Kinsella said, “The data we are publishing today gives us useful insights into business behaviour. Firstly, it is heartening that despite the constraints on business during the lockdown and COVID-19 restrictions that so many businesses invested in their employees by engaging in upskilling and training. Through refreshing expertise and learning new skills, businesses took positive steps towards making their staff and their business more resilient in a time of crisis.

“What really stands out is the kinds of areas that businesses were investing time to upskill in. For employees that received training: Covid-19 associated training was the most common. Through this, businesses tackle the challenges that Covid-19 pose to their activity ranging from PPE training and hygiene skills to stress management and mindfulness training.

“Next most important was technical training which saw a major investment in digital skills. Management was another important area particularly for business which had to transform their activity to support remote working.

“Digital and management training were areas that were noted for attention in previous Future Jobs Ireland reports as requiring targeted interventions, Covid-19 highlighted the deficiencies in these areas, and businesses have responded.

“Another area of innovation has been multimodal training. Businesses are simultaneously using different methods for training for their employees in particular areas. This demonstrates that flexibility in how we offer training options to employers if they are going to be able to avail of them. One-size-fits all has never been the right approach, but the complexity of the workplace under Covid-19 means that both trainers and funders will need to alter their approaches.

“With times as uncertain as they are, and the rapid transition to remote and flexible working, it is so important that our SME managers have access to training and supports. There is an opportunity to use the National Training Fund to both improve digital literacy and create more online trainings for businesses seeking to adapt during these challenging times.

“The newest Solas Strategy recognises this need, and programmes like Skills to Advance and Skills to Compete, have huge potential. Through strategic engagement with industry and business representative bodies, to tackle skills gaps and prevent patterns of long-term unemployment from emerging.

“The adaptability of our workforce to switch to online learning also shows what we can do as a workforce and an economy if we can improve digital literacy across the board. Despite improvements in recent years, Ireland still ranks below the EU average when it comes to digital skills. If we could improve digital literacy, we could do so much more to improve the productivity and competitiveness of the businesses operating in our economy

“Budget 2021 must ensure appropriate resources are available to improve digital skills, deliver digital training supports to in-working training, and to those who are but of work due to COVID-19. Short, sharp, targeted interventions can ensure that those who have lost their jobs are supported to transition to other sectors. A wider variety of digital courses for those in work will ensure that existing jobs are more resilient to ongoing turbulence in the economy.”

As the number of Covid-19 cases continue to rise in Waterford, Waterford Chamber is appealing to everyone to please be extra vigilant and compliant over the coming weeks.

We have been informed by Waterford Council and the HSE that the coming weeks are critical. We are facing down the barrel of having to move to Level 3 – lockdown. It has also come to our attention that a number of businesses have been somewhat lax in their approach and this is not acceptable.

Another lockdown would be a disaster for Waterford’s economy, which has been hit so much in recent months. Times have been tough, they continue to be so, but a second lockdown would be unthinkable. There are so many external factors at play in our lives right now, Brexit, a recession and of course Covid-19, all of which spell impending troubled waters ahead.

We have a window of opportunity to bring this disease under control and to keep Waterford at Level 2 restrictions. To do so, we all need to act now and break the chains of transmission, to ensure we live as optimally as we can with the virus, keep our schools open, resume non-covid healthcare and protect our vulnerable people.

We all have a responsibility now to act. Protect yourself and your staff, follow the guidelines and move on if you are not comfortable in an establishment that isn’t following guidelines.

In your personal life, please adhere to the following:

  • Meet less people inside your home.
  • Limit the number of people you meet outside your home as much as possible.
  • Avoid crowds.
  • Prioritise the people you need to see, keeping groups small, and seeing them regularly, rather than meeting lots of different people from different households. Concentrate on your core circle in the coming weeks.
  • With those you do meet, be particularly attentive to safe practices - keep your distance, wear a face covering where appropriate, cough into a tissue and bin it, wash your hands.

The message remains the same, but please double your efforts in the coming days and weeks and let us all be advocates of Covid good behaviour.

Let’s not exacerbate the situation by adding a second lockdown. Do your bit – keep your community and yourself safe.

Speaking earlier today (15 September 2020) Chambers Ireland Chief Executive, Ian Talbot said, “Chambers Ireland welcomes today’s announcement by government of a medium-term roadmap – something which our network has been seeking for a considerable period of time.

“Covid-19 means that businesses are operating under uncertainty and against considerable economic headwinds. This morning’s report “COVID-19 pandemic and SMEs revenues in Ireland”, published by the ERSI, demonstrates the disastrous circumstances which SME and Microenterprise businesses are facing out towards the year's end.

“It now seems unlikely that our economy is on the ESRI report’s optimistic trajectory. The SME sector, which employs 63% of people working in Ireland, looks like it will be having a catastrophic 2020.

“It remains the case that the risks adherent to this pandemic are asymmetric, the risks associated with under-reacting to the virus far outweigh the risks of over-reacting.

“Businesses need a clear strategy outlined by government so that they know what will occur during the reimposition of restrictions that many businesses are likely to experience over the winter. There cannot be room for ambiguity as a huge number of businesses will have to minimise their exposure to risks if they are to survive into the new year. If they are to know what the right decisions are to be, they will need to be certain of, and trust in, what the government’s response will be.

“In addition to direct support to maintain employment through this exogenous economic shock, there is a clear case for the government to introduce a counter-cyclical and stimulatory budget next month.

“There is an existing shortfall in infrastructure which needs to be made good – the demands of the Green Transition will necessitate the revitalisation of our urban areas, the modernisation and expansion of our transport networks, and the reinforcement of our energy grid. This budget must aim to close that gap.

“Over the coming decade, these works will need to be done regardless. It makes sense to carry them out now when interest rates are negative and there is likely to be excess capacity in our construction sector for years to come.”

Chambers Ireland today (14th September 2020) welcomes the decision by Northern Ireland Minister Mallon MLA to approve planning permission for the North South Interconnector and acknowledges the importance of this infrastructure both in terms of improving energy security and enabling the island to move towards a 70% target of renewable electricity, which is critical in meeting our 2030 targets.

Speaking this afternoon, Chambers Ireland Chief Executive Ian Talbot said, “The economic and health impacts of COVID-19 have dominated for the past 6 months, and while this crisis remains, it is important that Governments look to the future and plan for the long-term needs of local economies across the island.

“Today’s announcement that the North-South Interconnector has been granted planning approval is significant and will breed confidence in our capacity and ability to invest for the future.

“Energy security is of the utmost importance to businesses across the island and the Interconnector will improve the resilience of our electricity supply.

“The project is also essential for ensuring regional economies have the power and resources they need to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).

“In the longer term, the Interconnector will be invaluable in helping Ireland meet its climate targets, by supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy and the generation of clean electricity.

“Today’s announcement is good news for Ireland’s competitiveness and good news for Ireland’s climate targets. We look forward to the completion of the project.”

Chambers Ireland Budget 2021 SubmissionChambers Ireland today (10th September 2020), launches its submission to Government detailing recommendations to be included in Budget 2021 and the longer term National Economic Plan.

Aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals, the Chambers Ireland Budget 2021 Submission makes a series of recommendations that will support businesses to trade through the Pandemic through enabling our town centres and local economies to recover. It also emphasises the importance of investment in infrastructure, the low carbon transition, and the delivery of affordable homes.

Speaking today, Chambers Ireland Chief Executive Ian Talbot said, “Budget 2021 will be published in circumstances that would have been unimaginable at the outset of this year. The Irish economy faces tremendous challenges as it continues to suffer the impact of a global health pandemic. Unfortunately, that is not the only threat on the horizon. We could very well be facing a no-deal trading relationship with the UK from January.

“This Budget must address the underlying challenges to the economy. Even in February, when job creation was at an all-time high, this prosperity was not being felt in all parts of the country. Under-investment in infrastructure, particularly housing, was felt keenly across society, to the detriment of our quality of life. This is becoming a significant threat to our competitiveness and the sustainability of our economic recovery.

“The only way we can collectively face down these challenges is to ensure that we invest. This means investing in climate resilient infrastructure and new technologies that will ensure we can decarbonise. It means we must enable and empower our SMEs – the drivers of economic growth in communities across the country – to continue to compete and remain productive throughout the crisis. Most importantly, it means investing in the places where we live and work, so that town and city centres can thrive.

“Our submission calls on Government to put “Place” at the heart of its vision for Ireland. Budget 2021, and the new Legislative Programme, must be ambitious for the regions and the millions of people who live in the hinterlands of our cities and beyond. The need for balanced regional development and investment cannot be understated. As a first step, we call for the establishment of an inter-departmental Taskforce on Town Centres to address vacancies, build active transport infrastructure, and support urban living.

“If our town and urban centres are to have any chance of recovering from the impacts of the pandemic, we need to see better joined up thinking, linking in planning, local government, transport and housing policy. Urban centres must be good places to live, if they are going to be decent places to do business.

“Brexit, combined with the continued economic fallout from the pandemic, will make the work of the 33rd Dáil and the new Government even more challenging. As the consequences of these challenges unfold, we will be working closely with our members to ensure that their voices are heard.”

Chambers Ireland today (9th September 2020) welcomes the publication of the latest Brexit Readiness Action Plan from Government, which outlines the steps that businesses and individuals need to take now, to be ready for the end of the Transition Period on 31 December 2020.

Speaking this afternoon, Chambers Ireland Chief Executive Ian Talbot said, “With the deadline to allow ratification of a Trade Deal due at the next EU Council meeting next month, we urgently call on all businesses to thoroughly review this latest Brexit Readiness plan and prepare their operations and regular procedures as best as they can.

“All signs indicate that the UK is likely to leave the transition without a deal in place and businesses must prepare for this possibility.

“That being said, whether or not a Free Trade Agreement is finalised before the transition ends, both a deal and no-deal scenario will give effect to new obligations and costs for customs procedures, regulation and transit. The only way to reduce the impact of additional cost and administration is to take the time now to prepare.

“While the economic impact of COVID-19 continues to be the most immediately pressing issue for business, the end of the transition and the UK’s departure from the EU cannot be ignored. We call on businesses throughout Ireland to be vigilant and recognise the damage that a No-Deal exit for the UK could bring, review the Action Plan, and avail of all Government supports so that they can  prepare accordingly.”

Chambers Ireland today (7th September 2020) welcomes the launch of the new Credit Guarantee Scheme, and encourages businesses to make full use of the range of state supports available.

Speaking this afternoon, Chambers Ireland Chief Executive Ian Talbot said, “The new Scheme is an ambitious new initiative, where 80% of borrowings will be backed by the State. Interest rates will also be offered at a much lower rate than other more traditional business loans. While debt won't suit all businesses, for those who are eligible, we encourage them to explore this offering and apply as soon as possible.

Under state aid rules, loan applications will only remain open until the end of 2020. This leaves just over three months to apply and to receive approval. It is imperative that businesses are supported in progressing their applications as speedily as possible.

COVID-19 has had a detrimental impact on the business community. The publication of the Q2 quarterly accounts earlier today show that GDP was reduced by 6.1%, a bigger quarterly reduction than the worst days of the crisis in 2008. The economic impact of the pandemic is far from over and we now face into the winter and several months of difficult trading conditions for businesses, particularly in the hospitality, tourism and retail space.

While the launch of the Credit Guarantee Scheme today is very welcome, businesses need more from Government. We reiterate our call from last week to improve the supports that are already available. This includes reforming the EWSS, which is transitioning to €203 per week and may involve a seven-week delay in payment of the subsidy to businesses. These new changes could seriously undermine the objective of the Subsidy, which is to support business cash-flow so that jobs can be protected.

We urge Government to work with the business community to ensure that a co-ordinated national strategy is put in place to support local economies and communities as we continue to grapple with the threat of the COVID-19 virus.”

AGM 2020Danette Connolly, National Clinical Lead and MD of the Home Instead Training Academy and Chairperson of Waterford Hospice, was elected President of Waterford Chamber at the 233rd AGM in the Granville Hotel on 24th August.

As a business owner, Danette has been actively involved with Waterford Chamber at Board level for nearly ten years and is looking forward to bringing her own ideas to the organisation as we face into a new normal.

Speaking via a Zoom forum, Danette said: “I am honoured to have been asked to take on the role of President of Waterford Chamber and look forward to working with you all over the coming months. I would like to take this opportunity to thank outgoing President Jonathan Earl for his commitment over the past year and especially for the additional months he remained in the role due to the current crisis.

“My presidency should have started in May and we have missed out on many opportunities to meet since then, but that makes me even more determined and commitment to fulfilling this role to be best of my ability until my term ends next May.”

Speaking on the importance of working together as a business community during the pandemic, she said: “Let’s just pause for a moment and reflect on what you have been achieved in business since earlier this year. Businesses have adapted and responded to the changes, you have networked and helped each other, you have been incredibly resourceful and innovative.

“It would be remiss of me not to mention the HSE Tracing APP which was developed by NearForm in Tramore. As a business community of high achievers, we have done well and should take pride in that. And what’s even better is we can do more. Collaboration is the key to success.

“The topic of the HSE is always a potentially controversial one, but it’s important to note the local HSE and all the frontline have done a tremendous job. Though the Dunmore Wing at the hospital that houses the Palliative care services isn’t operational in the manner we have been striving to, this wing of the hospital played an important part in the hospital’s ability to manage during the worst of the crisis.

“During Covid, we have also seen work continuing on getting the North Quays developed, the Greenway extension to New Ross, the appointment of Tom Boland to get the University over the line, the Big Little ideas campaign which we led, bringing the ideas of the public together to create a roadmap for change.

“We need our city to grow and with that comes many challenges but also opportunities. We must embrace all we can and lead by example as the Capital of the South East Region. Yes we have to be realistic, a lot has been put on hold, but with a strong collective voice we can realise the vision set out in the National Planning Framework.

“And who knows maybe that pause button might be a good thing. It allows us to re-evaluate and look at things differently. I know I certainly have both personally and professionally.”

Chamber CEO Gerald Hurley outlined that in light of Covid-19 it has been a tough year financially for the organisation, but it has seen them grow as a team, becoming more innovative and connecting a lot more with members.

Speaking at the AGM, Gerald said: “The past number of months haven’t been easy but we have made every effort to support our members along the way.

“For me, one of the best things about these past few months has been the willingness for collaboration. We see it daily among the various stakeholders, including Waterford City & County Council, Waterford Local Enterprise office, Enterprise Ireland Waterford Business Group, ourselves and Dungarvan & West Waterford Chamber and many more. We have a common purpose – to beat this thing and come back better than ever. It has afforded us the opportunity to engage with our members, be more creative, to get back to basics in wanting to support our business community and to genuinely help those around us who are the lifeblood of the economic life in Waterford.”

As the meeting concluded, John McSweeney, AIB Bank and Ciaran Cullen, Handheld.ie were deemed elected as Deputy President and Vice-President respectively.

Chambers Ireland has today (1st September) sent a letter to An Taoiseach Micheál Martin outlining the concerns of our members regarding the Government response to Covid-19 in advance of the Dáil reconvening.

Chamber Ireland Concerns:

  1. There is a need for additional supports to help areas where restrictions must be reintroduced, to sustain businesses that are active in those areas, and then to support them upon reopening.
  2. It is critical that there is a co-ordinated, coherent and clear programme of policy and communications from government, the absence of which is undermining the viability of businesses and the sustainability of our economy.
  3. There are failings in the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme which need to be addressed urgently.

Speaking today, Chambers Ireland Chief Executive Ian Talbot said, “Chambers Ireland welcomes the early reconvening of the Dáil this week as there remains many policy areas which need the immediate attention of government. The transition from a set of temporary schemes to a longer-term response is to be welcomed but has not been communicated or co-ordinated as effectively as it might have been.

Businesses need to know what will happen if their area gets caught up in the future restrictions of an outbreak. Staff need to know that their jobs will be supported if their area is locked down. Government action in the three counties that suffered the reintroduction of restrictions, while welcome, has been limited to mentoring supports, marketing for the county, and training vouchers. If businesses and jobs are to be sustained through periods of restrictions, additional supports for cashflow will be required.

And, critically, we need a generalised, co-ordinated and coherent policy response to this disease. It is six months since the first Irish case of Covid-19 was diagnosed, and still businesses are trying to make decisions while the policy and regulatory environment is shifting on a month by month, even week by week, basis. Businesses continues to call on Government to provide certainty and sustainable long-term support during what will be a difficult winter trading period.

Of most concern at present is the transition from the TWSS to the EWSS scheme. This transition is concerning for several reasons and includes eligibility, the sudden change of rate from €350 per week to €203 per week and the proposed seven-week delay in payment of the subsidy to businesses. The new changes could seriously undermine the objective of the Subsidy, which is to support business cash-flow so that jobs can be protected.

We urge Government to work with the business community to ensure that a coherent, co-ordinated national policy response is put in place to support local economies and communities as we continue to grapple with the threat of the COVID-19 virus.”

A new partnership has been announced between Chambers Ireland and health and wellbeing provider, Health Assured, to offer a new Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) to their Chamber members.

Chambers Ireland’s new partnership with Health Assured will offer business members within our network a reduced sign-up rate to a 24/7, 365 confidential telephone support and counselling service, as well as to a wide range of wellbeing resources via an online wellbeing portal and mobile app, including articles, fact sheets, videos, webinars and self-help programmes.

David Price, CEO of Health Assured, said, “Health Assured is delighted to be partnering up with Chambers Ireland and their members. With one in four people in Ireland predicted to suffer mental health issues at some point in their lives, and despite the significant progress made in modern society, the long-standing stigma that was once attached to mental health conditions still plays a role in preventing many employees from coming forward to their employers regarding their mental health.

With the clear links between employees’ wellbeing and their level of performance and morale at work, taking note and modifying the way you address mental health at work should be of the up-most importance. We hope that our new partnership with Chamber members will go a long way towards ensuring that those who need support in a professional or personal capacity, always have somewhere to turn.”

Welcoming the new programme, Chambers Ireland Chief Executive Ian Talbot said, “Chambers Ireland is pleased to play its part in encouraging the importance of looking after the mental health and wellbeing of employees, as we all adapt to new measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

By partnering with Health Assured to offer our members the opportunity of a reduced sign-up rate to this programme, we hope to see businesses across the country avail of these essential resources for health and wellbeing support.

COVID-19 will have disrupted many aspects of people’s lives, particularly in the area of mental health.

It is vital that particular care and attention is paid to people’s mental health as they continue to work amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and this new Employee Assistance Programme is intended as a key resource employees can turn to for support.”

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