Brief description A small business and graduate project designed to tackle some of the problems associated with the current economic downturn.
Region Internal EU borders
Countries United Kingdom / Northern Ireland (UK/NI) – Ireland (IE)
Location East Border Region comprising ten local authorities:

UK/NI: Newry and Mourne, Down and Banbridge District Councils; Armagh City and District Council; Craigavon, Ards and North Down Borough Councils

IE: Louth, Monaghan and Meath County Councils

Type of project partners Municipalities
Regional government units
Size (total budget including EU grants) Over € 500,000
Main themes Competitiveness, business and SME development, trade and investment
Employment, labour mobility and social inclusion
Keywords (Types of Activities) Other
Keywords (Aspects of Good Practice) Genuine cross-border dimension
Genuine cross-border impact
Good sustainability
Background and Objectives ASPIRE’s primary aim is to help 60 small businesses to develop by employing 60 graduates to deliver a specific initiative or project on behalf of that business. By harnessing graduate talent, businesses are assisted to become more innovative, profitable and contribute to a sustainable regional employment, forge cross-border linkages and become involved in export markets.
Main activities Businesses that are located within the local authority areas of the East Border Region, and are also micro-businesses i.e. have fewer than 10 employees are eligible to participate in the project. It is important that they can demonstrate a specific business improvement need which the ASPIRE project can support.

The successful businesses are given an ASPIRE Mentor whose role is to assist the business to draw up a growth-focused business improvement plan and decide on the relevant job description/personnel specification to help deliver the plan. The outcome of this process establishes what type of graduate the business needs and what qualifications, skills, experience etc. are required. This results in the businesses employing the right candidate for the purpose.

The next step is the selection and appointment of a suitable graduate. ASPIRE manages the recruitment and selection process on behalf of the business. This involves advertising, managing queries, shortlisting and recommending candidates for interview. However, as the business will be the employer, they interview the shortlisted candidates with assistance from their ASPIRE Mentor. The business has the final decision on who is appointed. An amount of EUR 20,750 for a twelve month period is covered by the project as the graduate’s salary.

A graduate induction day is also organised during which all graduates in post at the time are given the opportunity to meet and network with each other while simultaneously being informed on the key aspects of how their placement project will roll out.

Main results At the beginning of 2014 the project had placed 45 graduates with businesses in a range of sectors including health sciences, recruitment, engineering, digital media, IT development, finance and technology. The recruitment of the remaining 15 is well underway with anticipated start dates in May 2014, bringing to 60 the total number of businesses and matched graduates supported by the project.

These are results of considerable value to the economic and employment situation in the cross-border region. On the one hand it offers job placements to graduates at a time when graduate employment levels in the region have reduced to their lowest levels since 1993 and on the other it supports ambitious micro-enterprises seeking to improve their business by the placement of unemployed graduates with suitable skills and knowledge.

Aspects of good practice The ASPIRE project has demonstrated good practice across the board as a wholly integrated cross-border operation, and has achieved tangible employment and economic outcomes in the cross-border region. Its broader contribution is underlined by the fact that it addresses gaps in current provision, complements the work of other graduate-based programmes, is based on research and extensive consultation and has widespread support from economic development agencies and the further education sector.
Start and completion dates: March 2012 – June 2015
More information N/A
Lead Partner East Border Region Ltd
2 Monaghan Court, Newry
Co Down, Northern Ireland, UK
Tel: +44 28 4066 0609; +44 28 4066 0609