Ireland could deliver 65,000 jobs in social enterprises, should it reach the EU average of 6% of value of GDP versus its present 3% share.
Meeting stated EU objectives to go beyond that figure to only 9% of GDP would deliver 100,000 jobs for Ireland.
A social enterprise operates within the social economy and its overall aim is to make a profit from its commercial activities while also having a positive social impact.
Examples of social enterprises include artisan cheese production and community care services for the elderly. Some 14m people are employed in social enterprises in Europe. Given that this figure is on average 6% of GDP in the EU, millions more jobs could be created in this area.
The social enterprise was identified as a strong engine for job creation by the EU Economic and Social Committee at the Conference Social Enterprises. This is spelled out in the recently published report: Europe 2020 Strategy: Innovative solutions for a sustainable Europe.
The SCube project at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) along with Plymouth University, Italy’s Università di Napoli, Federico II and GePros, a German business consortium, carry out research on social enterprises to develop their management capacity.
The SCube project at CIT is headed up by Dr Paul Walsh.
Some European social enterprise groups have been a huge success.
The co-operatively owned Mondragon group is the seventh largest business in Spain, and the biggest in the Basque country.
Around since 1956, it employs 84,000 people. It’s engaged inter alia in the production of white goods, office furniture, engineering equipment, alongside architectural services to businesses and supermarkets.
Most social enterprises are not nearly as big and tend to employ far fewer staff. But Mondragon has shown social enterprises need to be business-like and competitive.
The Government is also demanding better business management from community projects, which also fall under the ambit of social enterprises.
However, given that the vast majority of social enterprises are set up by ordinary people in order to sustain themselves economically and socially, there is very often a deficit in terms of their ability to manage them.
Unless these enterprises have strong management skills, they are unlikely to survive or become sustainable in the long term. The skills most identified in delivering this management capacity are referred to as “soft skills”, which is rather a misnomer, as these are the critical skills which employers prioritise for their enterprises to survive.
In order to operate these newer organisational structures effectively demands that increased proficiencies are made in areas such as communication, conflict resolution, negotiation, effective leadership, strategic thinking, and team building.
Directorate-general for education and culture of the European Commission highlights the increased need for soft skills training. A survey of employers across the 27 EU states listed the top- ranked skills as: team- working; ability to adapt to new situations; analytical and problem solving, and communication skills.
SCube and its EU partners have conducted a training needs analysis on Ireland, the UK, Italy, and Germany to identify the soft skills most valued and needed by social enterprises.
These were: improving communication in the workplace; developing innovative thinking; conflict resolution techniques; and more effective ways of teamwork.
Finally, the SCube EU-funded project goes beyond research. On the basis of the skills needed for sustainability, the consortium is developing serious games with an emphasis on virtual role play, to be made available online via computer and video, for the purpose of this specific skills training for social enterprises.
This can be rolled out as learning and management tools to social enterprises across the EU.
In this way, CIT sees itself as delivering on its mission statement of contributing to economic and social development at local, national and supra- national levels. The project will add strong value to enterprises and will have done so in a ‘town and gown’ partnership.
* Déirdre O’Byrne is a social researcher with the SCube Project at CIT