Belfast Telegraph

The hunt goes on as 1,600 attend employment fair

By Anne Madden

More than 1,600 people poured into the Ulster Hall yesterday, not looking to be entertained but simply looking for a job.

The Job Fair and Advice Forum was organised by five Local Employment Intermediary Service (LEMIS) providers in Belfast and was sponsored by the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL).

The event attracted a mix of young and old seeking a job or a new career.

Major employers such as Tesco, Belfast City Council and the Merchant Hotel attracted queues of people. But just 17 out of the 49 stalls were employers, with the vast majority of exhibitors careers advisers and support organisations.

The employment opportunities reflected the reality of the job market in Northern Ireland, with the fair dominated by the hospitality, care, administrative, call centre, retail and security sectors.

Peter Nelson (23), from Belfast, has been unemployed since he left Belfast Metropolitan College in May last year.

“I have applied for tonnes of jobs, most of them don’t even reply,” he said. “I was studying civil engineering but went off it and have been trying to get into IT. I have been doing the Steps to Work programme at the job centre which has been good to help you with interview preparation and gives you confidence.”

Psychology graduate, Caoimhe Hughes, has been working as a waitress in Armagh since she qualified in 2010.

“I would like to do teaching but getting onto a course is so competitive in Northern Ireland,” she said. “My computer is full of job applications, I would say I’ve applied for hundreds of jobs since university.”

Even getting a part-time job has proved difficult for one mother-of-three who needs to get a job that fits around the school day.

Victoria McGuinness (41), who is originally from New York, said: “There seems to be more full-time work available. I’ve applied for 25 jobs this year and got two interviews. At one interview I was told there were several hundred applicants for a part-time job as a receptionist for Specsavers.”

One care and residential home employer, the St John of God Association, were recruiting staff for a new residential home in west Belfast.

By lunchtime yesterday manager Cormac Coyle had given out 35 forms for 20 jobs, with positions ranging from £6.70 to £8.70 per hour.

“We provide residential care for older people and adults with learning difficulties, as well as domiciliary care and supported housing,” he said.

“We have had a lot of interest today.”

One of the most popular stands, Tesco, said it offered a new flexi-type contract which allowed people to work a range of hours.

“We are one of the biggest employers in Northern Ireland, with roughly 9,000 staff,” said the Tesco exhibitor.

Two young men from Belfast’s Short Strand, Gareth McCann (20) and Colm Johnson (16), discussed job prospects at Tesco.

But while Gareth said he was keen to get a job in Tesco, he didn’t want to be there forever.

“I’ve worked in another supermarket chain and heard Tesco was better,” he said.

“I’d take a job anywhere in Belfast but it is just a job for now.”

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