Massive turn out at education fair reflects jobs crisis

Up to 1,400 people have attended an adult education fair in Letterkenny indicating a huge interest in the county in further education.

Up to 1,400 people have attended an adult education fair in Letterkenny indicating a huge interest in the county in further education.

The huge crowd at the VEC’s Adult Learner Fair took organisers by surprise and there were traffic problems around the Mount Errigal Hotel due to the huge attendance.

Guest speaker was Sean Gallagher, the entrepreneur from Dragons’ Den, who is also a board member of Fas.

Over 50 exhibitors attended the fair covering further education, higher education and support services. Third level institutions attending the event included Letterkenny Institute of Technology, NUI Galway, Queens University Belfast and the University of Ulster.

People attending the fair included graduates looking to further their job opportunities, unemployed looking for new opportunities and people contemplating a change of career.

Sean Debney, adult education co-ordinator with the VEC, said in previous years the event has attracted between 800

to 1,000 people but this year the figure was between 1,300 and 1,400. He said the increased attendance was partly due to the draw of Sean Gallagher but also because of the general interest in education and up-skilling due to the recession.

“People want to find a solution for themselves and as Sean Gallagher said it’s about having hope but also about putting hope into action,” he said.

Roisin McCormack of the access office at LYIT said those interested in doing access courses at LYIT ranged from people who have been out of education for a long time, leaving certificate students who have not done as well as hoped and those who had been employed in the construction industry. “Many of them are electricians and plumbers who were self-employed and are interested in courses like wind energy and engineering.” There were more young people attending the fair than in previous years, she said.

Student Recruitment Officer at Queens University, Belfast, Grace Meehan, said there was a lot of interest in under-graduate courses but also part time courses, which suit adults returning to education. She said she was amazed at the numbers attending the fair and also encouraged those considering enrolment at the university to do so before student fees in the UK increase. “Get in now before September because we don’t know what is going to happen.”

Christine Ferguson was representing Edgehill University in Liverpool, the only third level institution from outside of Ireland at the event. There was a lot of interest in the university’s teaching courses, she said.

Danny McCafferty from Gortahork was one of the many young people looking for a suitable course. Having graduated in music production and completed another course in television production he is unemployed and looking to break into screen writing. “I was shocked by the number of people here today, but I suppose it is a sign of the times.”

Dougie McFeely, an unemployed painter and decorator from Ballybofey, was at the fair looking for a new career. “I have been out of work for a year and I am looking for something new. Leo Gallagher from Ballybofey is a painter and decorator who has been unemployed for six months. A father of one with another child on the way, he was also looking for a new career path. He said he was feeling better about new opportunities after attending the day. “It’s been very good and, very impressive and I am feeling positive. I am looking for full time of part time courses and wanted to see what is out there.”

Jackie Coll, from Cranford, was impressed by the range of course on show. “I am a full-time mum, but I want to go back and train up and go back to work. It has been a great boost to see what possibilities there are for people to train and re-train no matter what age you are.”

As well as Sean Gallagher the fair was also addressed by Mary Howick, from Inver, who is now Vice-President of Human Resources at Prumerica, the American company which employs 825 people in Letterkenny.

She urged people to draw up a mission statement for themselves and asked unemployed people to do voluntary work to

ensure they get experience. Having a positive attitude is also key, she said. “Focus on what is going for you rather

than what is going wrong,” she said. Experienced and skilled people who are out of work should “take what you can get at the moment”. “If you have skills you will stand out,” she said. “Each and everyone one of us can make the difference that we are looking to see,” she said.

Fas senior researcher Jasmina Behan told the fair about how the labour market is changing and illustrated how the economy is moving away from traditional manufacturing, agriculture and construction to smart technooogy and the service industry.

All sectors and occupations are becoming more knowledge intensive and the economy was moving from a place where people had a job for life to having work for life, she added.