Skills to Drive International Trade In Ireland

By Gerard Walker

Future Jobs-Skills-Work Insights 



The World Trade Organisation's April forecasts anticipate a sharp drop in international goods trade of up to 32% resulting from the Covid-19 Pandemic effect on economic demand and disruption of supply chains.


Manufacturing sectors with complex supply chains are particularly affected. The WTO anticipate a recovery in trade up to 24% in 2021 dependent upon the duration of the pandemic and the effectiveness of policy responses. They also expect that tradeable services such as tourism, cultural and travel will suffer.


Addressing these issues is the focus of the National Logistics and Supply Chain Skills Group, chaired by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.  


The open nature of the Irish economy means that excellence in international trade skills is vital for our competitiveness and regional development. 80% of Irish manufactured output is exported by a combination of road, sea, air, and rail modes including much of the output of the 1,000 multi-national companies located here. The Governments Trade and Investment Strategy, “Ireland Connected: Trading and Investing in a Dynamic World” affirms Ireland’s place as an open, globalised, trading partner in the wider world.



Around 108,000 people are employed in transport, logistics and distribution occupations. A significant number of these are engaged in international trade activity. IITD L&D professionals can contribute to the development of talent in these areas. 


Strategic Export Business Planning skills that enable an enterprise to assess their capability to trade including their unique value proposition against competitors. In a post Brexit trading environment Irish SMEs mainly exporting to the UK need to diversify their exports to other countries. For Irish companies planning to engage in trade, information and advice is available from Irish Embassies abroad, Enterprise Ireland and Bord Bia.


Product/Service Design and Innovation skills includes knowledge of international design standards, safety and environmental regulations and packaging for different countries. Products need to be competitively priced and meet customers delivery and quality requirements. The convergence of technologies in the design of goods and services is increasing demand for cross-disciplinary knowledge and skill sets


International Marketing, Selling and Project Management skills: Market research skills help to identify customer demand across countries and sectors. Market segments include B2B, B2C and business-to-Government. There can be a long lead-in time to Asian/Pacific markets with buyer and supplier relationships needing to be nurtured. Product and technical knowledge and web-based marketing skills are important. Key competences are communications, networking, cultural awareness, and negotiations.


E-commerce and Social Media skills are required to optimise business sales opportunities and for procurement. The current application by Irish companies of E-commerce is mainly for the domestic market. Company web-based promotional material and literature needs to be produced in the language of their overseas markets. The use of E-commerce has grown as consumers have adapted to Covid-19 social restriction measures although it has also been prone to supply chain delays.


Supply Chain, Distribution and Logistics skills are critical within the current pandemic disruptions and post Brexit trading environment. Supply chain security and consistency is a key requirement for international customers. Goods freight can be delivered by several modes from Ireland including by a combination of sea, road, air, and rail. There are increasing digital upskilling requirements in these areas such as the application of Fleet Telematics in road freight transportation. This can capture data relating to the performance and position of HGV Fleet vehicles and provide reports to operators to manage their fleet better and improve profitability. Cold logistics is necessary for the transport, handling and storage of temperature sensitive products including healthcare product and perishable foods. This requires specific warehousing and transport container requirements. The skills set to manage these goods are differed from bulk and packaged products. 

Multinational companies based in Ireland engaged in ICT, Biopharma and Medical Devices activities often share the supply chain network of their parent company. There is potential for them to build up their global supply chain operation capability in Ireland. Large Irish agri-food companies have well-developed supply chain operations. Many SMEs have single-source supply chain operations especially with the UK that need to be diversified by strengthening their supply chain management capability.

Customer Technical Support skills are in demand for after-sales support and supply of added value services ensuring customer engagement and brand loyalty. Competences include communications, digital proficiency, foreign language and cultural awareness. This also applies to the sizeable number of inside sales operations located in Ireland.


Customs Clearance and Procurement skills are required to handle air, road, sea, and rail freight transport modes including knowledge of freight rates, insurance, custom duties, VAT payments, warehousing procedures, e-business and labelling and packaging requirements for trade with different countries.


Foreign Language and Cultural Awareness skills are key for international trade. Although English is an international business language it is beneficial for enterprises to build up a foreign language and cultural awareness capability including for German, French, Italian and Spanish for trade with European and South American Markets or as an outside resource to draw upon as for Chinese and Japanese for Asian markets. Cultural awareness is relevant for differing communications, work styles, social behaviour, customs, dress etc. 


Main Takeaways


Irish enterprises can upgrade their trade skills capability both to mitigate the current global downturn in trade and take advantage of the expected recovery in 2021. In the current Covid-19 pandemic the consistent quality supply of essential food, and medical supplies highlights the importance of supply chain and logistics activities. International marketing and selling, supply chain, distribution and logistics skills are key to drive enterprise international trade and offer employment opportunities for new graduates, jobseekers, and persons at work.


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