Hundreds of people have queued in the hope of securing one of 30 jobs in one of Northern Ireland’s most notorious unemployment blackspots.
Many spoke of the dire situation facing job hunters in the current economic climate as they arrived in Strabane at a jobs fair offering the rare chance of permanent, full-time employment.
The vast majority of those who gathered yesterday to apply for the AllState Northern Ireland IT support positions were in their late teens and 20s, reflecting the current devastatingly high level of youth unemployment.
More than 100 people had gathered in the foyer of The Alley Theatre before the doors even opened on the jobs fair organised in conjunction with the Department for Employment and Learning.
Among those hoping to secure a position were teenagers Andrew McColgan and Conal Boyle from Strabane, along with Andrew Cochrane from Londonderry.
Andrew Cochrane (17) was hoping to follow in the footsteps of his brother by securing a job with the US firm.
“It’s very hard to get a job anywhere at the minute” he said.
“I’m actually training in barbering but I have always had an interest in computing and my brother is a big computer man.
“I’ve heard that Allstate is fantastic for employee satisfaction so it would be great to get employment there.”
Andrew McColgan (17) meanwhile has been trying for six months to find work.
He has lost count of the amount of applications he has submitted.
“Jobs are hard enough to come by — I've been to the Job Centre at least twice a week for the past six months and I have applied for a lot of jobs.
“I have only had two interview for all the things I had applications in for..”
Conal (19) classed himself lucky to have landed a job in computing after leaving school.
But his luck changed recently when he was laid off as jobs were shed at the small Donegal firm he worked at.
“It hasn’t been as bad for me but even since I have been looking it is really difficult to find anything. Most positions are manager positions” he said.
Former joiner Jason Lindsay (28) from the Ballycolman estate in Strabane has been searching for work for the past six months amid the ongoing contraction within the construction sector.
Mr Lindsay said he was hopeful of being given the chance to start a new career with Allstate, but acknowledged there was a lot of competition at the fair yesterday.
“The last time there was something like this there must have been 500 people looking for work.
“There are some jobs in Belfast but to get up and down you would need a part-time job to pay for the travelling.”
He added: “As for the joinery, nobody is building now. They’re all afraid of not getting it sold once it is built.”
Rachel Crowe (19) from Strabane has also been looking for work for the past three months.
She described trying to find employment in the North West as “a nightmare”.
“I have been on the internet and down to the job centre lots of times but they are looking for things like degrees.
“I have a lot of friends who work in Allstate and from what they say it is a very good place to work.”
Twenty-year-old students Kevin Maxwell from Clady and Sean Bridle, originally from England but living in Strabane, were also very keen to secure employment with Allstate.
Kevin said: “I have been looking for work for about a year now. I have gone into the job centre, on the internet, applied to so many jobs. Most don’t write back.
“To have 30 jobs at the one time like this is unusual and I really hope I can get a job here with Allstate as they have a very good reputation.”
Undergraduate Sean, who has applied for 18 jobs and attended seven interviews in the past year, agreed.
He said: “It is tough, there are so many people in for jobs these days. We are just hoping.”
Karen Neill, human resources officer with Allstate NI, said those who had turned up “had a really good chance of getting a role with us.”
“We hope to get back to people attending the event here within a week,” she added.
For years Strabane had the the unenviable title of Northern Ireland’s worst unemployment blackspot.
In recent years Derry has overtaken the Tyrone town’s unwanted reputation, but Strabane still has the third highest unemployment claimant count, standing at 7.1%
Allstate NI is currently one the Strabane District’s largest employers with 450 local people already working at the US firm’s base.
The new jobs are technical and processing support positions to be based at the Strabane plant.
The Strabane facility provides a range of business services such as technical support and software testing.