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Turkey – helping SMEs internationalise through training

When you think about competitiveness and entrepreneurship, you should think about Turkey.

The country, benefitting from strong investment by the Ministry of Economy, recently received three ‘Good practice’ awards from the European Training Foundation for the best SME internationalisation projects. With 75% of their costs covered by the Ministry, the Istanbul Lingerie Cluster, the Footwear Design Workshop and the Ex-Point Expo Mentoring Program ranked among the top seven projects awarded in May in Turin, Italy.

The reason for Turkey investing so much in this area, and achieving so much success, is not a coincidence. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) make up 99.8% of the total number of registered businesses in Turkey and account for over 55% of exports and more than 73% of employment. In a strategy launched in 2009, Turkey established an export strategy with a goal of increasing exports by 12% annually, in order to eventually become one of the top ten economies in the world.

By bringing together competing companies with no knowledge of each other, the Istanbul Apparel Exporters’ Association turned the lingerie businesses into a network. With a combination of theoretical and applied learning, mentoring, and trade visits to the International lingerie fair in Paris, the Istanbul Lingerie Cluster achieved a total of €1.7m of export orders for the companies.

Our scope was to change the vision and to expand to the EU market” said the organisers, who carried out a training needs analysis before launching the project.

The footwear sector, 80% of which exports to Iraq, Russia and Germany, was addressed by the Izmir Chamber of Commerce through a Footwear Design Workshop – a three-week training course for SMEs implemented by the Istanbul Fashion Academy. The course, focusing on the importance of design in adding value to manufacturing, culminated in the foundation of the Faculty of Footwear Design and Manufacturing at Izmir University of Economics.

Before starting the training course, we made an on-site visit to every company”, said the training organisers, who invested significant energy in the training needs assessment.

With a focus on key decision-makers within SMEs in the automotive, maritime, plastics, and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning sectors, Ex-Point is the third award winner: a training programme which helps companies to develop their export strategies and promotion. Organised by Zobu, a consulting firm based in Izmir, the course consists of six to 12 months of mentoring of 1-2 key staff per company. In this way, participants learn from mentors, and can apply their learning to their daily work.

Our goal is to prepare non-exporters for export”, said an organiser, “Moreover, we want to increase the export volume of companies already exporting, but in a more sustainable way”.

Background. On 30-31 May 2018, training providers, policymakers and ETF experts celebrated good practice in training for SME internationalization, culminating in the ETF’s 2018 good practice awards ceremony. Focused on identifying excellence in training to support SMEs to internationalise, seven training programmes were selected from a long list following an open call and a series of intensive peer reviews by SME training experts.