Online business support programme launched to help SMEs overcome business challenges

skillnet mentorswork
Liz Thomas, Strategic Projects, Skillnet Ireland; Niall Collins, T.D., Minister of State for Skills and Further Education; Michael O’Malley Hugo’s Restaurant; Paul Healy, Chief Executive, Skillnet Ireland and Graham Byrne, Small Firms Association (SFA) Chair.

Skillnet Ireland in partnership with the Small Firms Association (SFA), has today launched a new phase of the MentorsWork initiative aimed at guiding Irish SMEs through their current business challenges towards stabilisation and recovery, six months on from the outbreak of Covid-19.  MentorsWork is also supported by the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI) and Microfinance Ireland.

The MentorsWork eight-week business support programme is free to SMEs nationwide and is designed to provide the skills and supports to help business owner-managers sustain and improve their business. The programme offers integrated learning supports across four key pillars; People, Finance and Growth, Digitalisation and Automation and Business Processes, all which help businesses to adapt and thrive by improving skills and competencies.

MentorsWork will connect business owners and managers across Ireland with experienced and skilled business mentors to address specific business issues on a one-to-one basis. The programme also offers specialist masterclasses and access to a bespoke online learning platform specially designed for SMEs.

Minister of State for Skills and Further Education, Niall Collins, T.D., said: The development of a highly skilled workforce and supporting our vital SME base is a key objective for the Government. MentorsWork from Skillnet Ireland offers SMEs expert support in overcoming current challenges and achieving their full potential. I would urge every small and medium sized enterprise to participate in these supports which are delivered by industry for industry.”

Skillnet Ireland Chief Executive Paul Healy said, “The Covid-19 crisis has brought significant challenges for businesses. Working with the SFA, we want to support businesses to navigate the challenges they are facing by offering them supports that are targeted at their specific needs. The opportunity to gain expert advice and insight through the MentorsWork programme is essential to drive sustainable long-term recovery across the SME sector.”

Launching MentorsWork, Graham Byrne, SFA Chair, said: “MentorsWork is an initiative led by the SFA, in partnership with Skillnet Ireland, and designed in consultation with Irish businesses. Together we want to meet the needs of SMEs and offer them our full support at this challenging time.

We are delighted to have developed a programme that not only connects vastly experienced mentors with businesses to affect real change, but also incorporates expert-led workshops, access to a self-paced learning portal and the development of a bespoke business plan. We are calling on SMEs, across Ireland, to sign up and avail of this opportunity to seek expert advice, free of charge, to help their business not only adapt but thrive.”

Gina Murphy, owner of Hugo’s restaurant Merrion Row, has previously participated in the programme, “As a business owner, you’re expected to be a leader, but nothing prepares you to lead during a global pandemic. I needed someone to advise me and offer reassurance that I was taking the right next steps. The help and guidance provided through MentorsWork was fantastic – the fact that someone was listening and providing practical advice that I could implement right away made a huge difference. As a business we now have a plan to get back up and running.”

With up to 300 places available in this new phase of the scheme, the MentorsWork initiative is open to SME business owners and leaders operating across Ireland and in all sectors of the economy. The programme is free of charge and open to private sector businesses that employ between 5-250 people.

Business owners and managers can apply to participate in MentorsWork at


Launch of Clear Customs online training platform to prepare businesses for customs changes

skillnet clear custom

Skillnet Ireland, in conjunction with the Government’s ‘Getting Ireland Brexit Ready’ campaign, is launching Clear Customs, an online training programme to support Irish businesses deal with increased customs requirements as a result of Brexit. The programme is provided free of cost.

By the end of 2020, businesses, trading either with or through Great Britain, will be subject to a range of new customs formalities and other regulatory requirements. It is estimated that the number of customs declarations required will increase, from 1.6m annually at present, to an estimated 20m after the UK’s departure from the Customs Unions and Single Market. These changes will happen regardless of the outcome of the ongoing negotiations and businesses will find it increasingly challenging, without the necessary arrangements in place or required skills in-house, to deal with these additional responsibilities.

Designed in collaboration with key industry bodies in the trade and logistics sector, Clear Customs is an initiative to support affected Irish companies develop the capacity to deal with the additional customs requirements that will be needed from January 1st, 2021. The programme, developed in partnership with the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT), will be delivered by CILT Skillnet as part of the Government’s ‘Getting Ireland Brexit Ready’ initiative.

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar TD said: “No matter what happens at the end of the year, free trade agreement or no free trade agreement, things are going to be different.  The UK will no longer be in the Single Market or Customs Union and there will be increased bureaucracy and costs for business. We want to minimise it and make the transition as seamless as we can. Making sure your business is prepared for any changes to customs is a crucial part of getting ready. This online training programme from Skillnet Ireland is part of an overall package we have put in place to help businesses at this critical time.”

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris TD said: “It is clear businesses are facing a range of challenges this year in light of Covid and Brexit. Skillnet Ireland offers businesses vital supports in preparing for the challenges Brexit will inevitably bring. Skillnet Ireland will help businesses upskill rapidly to deal with new customs procedures. There is a Clear Customs mobile app and virtual classroom sessions, to provide an engaging and impactful learning experience for businesses. We are calling on business owners to avail of this free training as part of the Government’s Brexit Readiness Action Plan and ensure their businesses are prepared for the new customs requirements from January 1st, 2021.”

Skillnet Ireland Chief Executive Paul Healy said: There are now less than 4 months to go before businesses that trade with Great Britain will see significant changes in the customs regime.  This poses serious challenges for many businesses, and they will need to ensure as soon as possible that they have the skills and tools to respond. The Skillnet Ireland Clear Customs programme, delivered through a new online format and mobile app, is available to businesses across Ireland that are looking to develop their customs capacity. Our collaboration with Carlow Institute of Technology to accredit this programme adds additional value to both participants and businesses, while our partnerships with key industry bodies such as CILT and Government agencies ensures that the Clear Customs programme fully addresses this important business need.”

The Clear Customs training programme is targeted at Irish businesses, or others acting on behalf of businesses such as customs intermediaries.  The initiative, which is being made available immediately to eligible businesses free of charge, together with customs agents and intermediaries, will be delivered through a new mobile app and virtual classroom training sessions.

  • The Clear Customs mobile app provides a next-generation mobile learning experience with engaging and easy to navigate content on customs declaration completions. The content has been designed by industry for industry as they prepare for the new customs requirements on January 1st, 2021.
  • Online learning delivered by expert customs practitioners is complemented with virtual classroom sessions. This deepens the learning experience and ensures that businesses can avail of the full range of training supports, wherever they are located.
  • The Clear Customs digital platform and mobile app also offers refresher training and a useful reference point for participating businesses going forward.

Mick Curran, CEO of CILT said: With the UK’s departure from the Customs Union and Single Market now imminent, there has never been a greater necessity to boost ‘in-house’ customs capacity amongst business that are regularly trading with or through the UK. It is essential that every business prepares to be customs ready to avoid any transitional period or standstill whereby goods are not moving. Taking action now enables businesses to future proof and be prepared.”

The Clear Customs programme is available free of charge and open to private sector businesses in Ireland who import goods from or export goods to and through the UK. Participants that successfully complete the programme will be eligible for a QQI Level 6 Certificate in Customs Clearance Procedures awarded by IT Carlow.

Businesses should visit to learn more and register for the initiative.

The Clear Customs initiative is led by Skillnet Ireland, supported by the Government’s ‘Getting Ireland Brexit Ready’ campaign, responding to the growing skills needs of Irish businesses because of Brexit.