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New Ibec president sets out key priorities for year ahead

Critically important areas of focus for the business representative organisation include diversity, equality and inclusion, future skills and Ireland’s competitive offering to foreign direct investment

Newly appointed Ibec president Paul Duffy has set a number of key priorities for the year ahead in the critically important areas of diversity, equality and inclusion (DE&I), future skills, and Ireland’s competitive offering to foreign direct investment.

“Over the years Ireland has shown that we have the innate ability to transform both our workforce and our society,” he says. “Part of this transformation story is the role played by immigration. Migrants have helped increase economic growth and improved output. We now have a richer and much more diverse society because of the over 700,000 non-Irish nationals from over 200 nations working and living in our country.

“We have been an open economy that has reaped the benefits of this diversity,” he continues. “It is important that we continue to be an open society and never be complacent in protecting these values. As a nation we should not only aspire to be a great place to find work but a country where everyone is welcomed, recognised and valued.”

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The substantial advantages offered by diverse perspectives include driving business innovation, as well as the personal growth of employees within inclusive workplaces, he adds.


He points out that Ibec collaborates extensively on the issue with stakeholders including advocacy groups, governmental representatives, and business visionaries on both national and international platforms. “By collectively shaping policies and adopting practices that foster positive outcomes for diverse cohorts, Ibec ensures the prosperity of businesses,” he says. “To facilitate this transformative journey, the creation of the Diversity and Inclusion Hub by Ibec serves as a comprehensive resource, offering practical guidance, exemplars of effective strategies, real-world case studies, and templates. This resource portal has become an indispensable tool for navigating the realm of DE&I.”

Ibec also supports member firms with broader environmental, social and governance (ESG) objectives. “Integrating ESG initiatives into corporate strategy is no longer optional; it is the foundation of responsible and resilient business,” he notes. “Ibec is steadfast in its commitment to supporting members on their journey to embrace ESG practices. By providing the necessary resources, knowledge, and guidance, we support businesses to not only adapt to changing expectations but to create a future where economic growth goes hand in hand with environmental sustainability and social equity. Personally, I believe we all need to do a better job in ensuring we play our part in leaving behind a planet where future generations can live and thrive as our generation has done.”

Continuing workforce development is critically important for Ireland’s economic success, he believes. “Ireland’s commitment to upskilling its workforce and cultivating an innovative culture ensures our preparedness to excel in the present and harness the potential of emerging technologies like AI, advanced robotics, and additive manufacturing to shape a new future. This state of readiness not only draws esteemed companies but also nurtures domestic ingenuity, propelling Ireland to the global forefront of the impending industrial revolution. This positions us as a centre for pioneering research, development, and transformative manufacturing processes.”

He points to a number of actions that can be taken to improve future skills availability in an exceptionally tight labour market. “For example, in preparation for Budget 2024, Ibec is advocating for the government to tap into the €1.5 billion surplus within the National Training Fund. Budget 2024 should unlock the €1.5bn surplus of the National Training Fund to help deliver the key skills for the 21st century. Furthermore, Ibec recommends a €710 million investment to boost research, innovation, and digital capacity, along with €307 million in university funding and €225 million to support the growth of Irish exporting businesses. Ibec also proposes investing €650 million to advance net zero carbon goals.”

Wage bill

He has some concerns in relation to rising employment costs imposed by Government policies such as the living wage and the national auto-enrolment pension scheme which he notes are particularly acute for smaller businesses. “These measures, while well-intentioned, could increase the wage bill significantly. Ibec’s sector-wide projections indicate potential increases of up to 17 per cent in certain sectors by 2030. Acknowledging these implications over the coming period will ensure a balanced and sustainable economic environment that continues to support businesses and employees alike.”

Looking to the future Duffy believes the economy is at a turning point. “The challenges we face are opportunities to create a more resilient and vibrant economy. By addressing services, infrastructure and capacity, we are setting the stage for sustainable growth and social cohesion. Our experience of the past teaches us that we can transform challenges into stepping stones toward an even more prosperous and brighter future.”

Ibec’s call for investment goes beyond addressing current challenges, he concludes. “It is about securing long-term competitiveness and preventing permanent congestion. While we have seen delays in project delivery, these delays must be seen as an opportunity to enhance skills, digitise processes, and innovate in various sectors.”