Belfast Telegraph

Desperately seeking work... hordes of hopefuls queue around the block for jobs fair on day dole numbers fell

Unemployment figures may have dropped, but tell that to the thousands of people who queued around the block for a jobs fair that had just 350 vacancies up for grabs.

The hunger for work was evident as people of all ages and levels of experience lined up in the early morning at the event in Londonderry for a chance to snare a job in the run-up to Christmas.

However, there were widespread complaints among the job hopefuls that most of the positions on offer were part-time or temporary and were low-paid.

Many were in retail and included night-time seasonal work at department stores – positions which will disappear once the Christmas rush is over.

Yet even with these terms there was no shortage of people willing to take on any job going.

Latest figures show the overall jobless total has dropped but among young people those out of work rose by 1,000 quarter-on-quarter.

And it was young people who made up the bulk of those swarming around the company stands at the Department of Education and Learning co-ordinated event at the Millennium Forum in Derry yesterday.

The city has the highest level of unemployment in Northern Ireland at 9%, closely followed by neighbouring Strabane where the figure is 8%, but judging by the numbers yesterday this is no reflection of the willingness of people to find work and get out of the benefits system.

Most sectors were represented at the fair including manufacturing companies Invista and Seagate, which have a base in Derry, as well as the hospitality and tourism, retail, IT and construction sectors.

Among those hoping to land a position was Samantha Maguire (19) who wants to find work in the North West so she can stay at home and help to care for her mother, unlike so many others who have been forced to emigrate to find work.

She said: "I have been around most of the stalls and I am a bit disappointed that there is not more on offer, a lot of the jobs are temporary and part-time but I want a full-time job.

Gerard McElhinney has worked most of his adult life as a joiner, but for the past five years he has struggled to find steady employment and is now considering a change in direction.

He said: "I am 38 years of age and I have a young family to support and there are plenty more like me who know how hard it is to get work anywhere here.

"Anyone involved in the construction industry did have it good for a fair few years but it has been like a desert since the housing market crashed," he said.

"I get the odd bit of work but it is short term and irregular and I can't depend on it.

"My wife works so that takes us out of the benefits system. It's like you get punished for being married and having a family.

"I came to see about maybe retraining to do something else but my biggest fear is that I have left it too late and I am too old."

Despite some of the downbeat comments from those attending, organisers said it was a vital part of trying to tackle the scourge of unemployment.

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