Facebook has announced a new digital training programme for over 10,000 small Irish businesses to support their recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The "Boost with Facebook" programme will offer digital skills training to help businesses grow their online footprint, establish an online shop front and connect with new customers.

Facebook will also offer specific training to industries that have been hit hard by the pandemic, especially the retail and tourism sectors.

Facebook, in partnership with Retail Excellence, will deliver training to retailers on how to find new customers and create a virtual storefront for products and services on June 24.

A similar session for the tourism sector is planned in September.

Facebook's existing programme of support for SMEs included providing €4.6m last year to over 1,000 small businesses across Ireland.

The grants were a combination of cash, to help cover essential bills and payroll, and ad credits to help SMEs generate revenue through online marketing and sales.

Facebook's latest State of Small Business report shows that of the Irish businesses that remained open during the pandemic, 62% experienced lower sales and 25% cut their staff numbers.

32% of SMEs said they had to close their business, but this was down significantly from the 58% reporting closures when the survey was last conducted in July of last year.

Many businesses survived the pandemic and the lockdowns because they were able to migrate to online sales, with thousands of companies across the country finding new and innovative ways to service their customer base throughout lockdown.

This is evidenced by the 160% surge in ecommerce revenue for Irish retailers in 2020, accelerating from the average 32% a year growth experienced in 2017 to 2019, according to Wolfgang Digital's Irish E-commerce report.

David Harris, Director of Global Business at Facebook, said its research shows that SMEs have suffered during the pandemic.

"Business owners in Ireland are learning to embrace the benefits that digital and social media channels can play in growing and driving sales. People are now buying directly through social media with eight in ten Instagram users discovering new products or services on the platform," Mr Harris said.

"However, for some business owners, the idea of pivoting to online retail can seem daunting. Through the Boost with Facebook programme, we will offer 10,000 small businesses in Ireland free training that will provide them with the digital skills to compete in what is a rapidly changing marketplace," he added.