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Post-Covid jobs crisis 'inevitable'

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Celebrating 25 years: Paul Branagan and Ciarán Reid, Louth Leader Partnership, with Valerie O’Malley, Helen Culleton and Siobhan Rankin, Local Employment Service. Picture: Aidan Dullaghan / NEWSPICS

Celebrating 25 years: Paul Branagan and Ciarán Reid, Louth Leader Partnership, with Valerie O’Malley, Helen Culleton and Siobhan Rankin, Local Employment Service. Picture: Aidan Dullaghan / NEWSPICS

Celebrating 25 years: Paul Branagan and Ciarán Reid, Louth Leader Partnership, with Valerie O’Malley, Helen Culleton and Siobhan Rankin, Local Employment Service. Picture: Aidan Dullaghan / NEWSPICS

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The Covid-19 pandemic is set to unleash a new unemployment crisis, with some sectors hit hardest by lockdowns, according to the Local Employment Service (LES) which is marking its 25th anniversary in Dundalk this month.

With 12,264 people currently on a PUP (Pandemic Unemployment Payment) in Louth, and 3,330 on the live register in Dundalk, there are obvious signs of an impending wave of job losses after Covid.

Certain industries won't come back as strong as they were, such as catering, retail and hospitality, says LES Co-Ordinator Siobhan Rankin.

She explained that they 'will be working with people who have relied on these sectors to look at alternative types of work.'

Set up in 1996, at a time when unemployment was falling after the crash of the 1980s, the Local Employment Service (LES) focused on the long term unemployed, those who had been out of work for more than 12 months.

'It was still stubbornly high at that time, and the government had set up a special taskforce to examine the issue of long term unemployment.

The taskforce has recommended a localised community based service to work with people who had been out of work for a long, in a very supportive way.'

'This led to the establishment of the Local Employment Service network, and with Dundalk being deemed an unemployment blackspot, it was particularly important we had a service based here,' added Siobhan.

'At that time a lot of the traditional employers, Harp, Carrolls, Ecco, were all disappearing, and there was a real issue with long term unemployment here.'

Dundalk became one of the first offices for a Local Employment Service, managed by Louth Leader Partnership.

'In the last 25 years we have been supporting the long term unemployed in Dundalk, as well as anyone on a jobseekers payment, people on other social welfare benefits, and asylum seekers, anyone who would be facing any barriers to employment.'

Anyone who accesses the service is employed a Guidance Officer, who works with them for twelve months, developing a personal progression plan, with the emphasis on high support looking at the barriers and how they could overcome them to find good quality employment.

'They will look at a wide range of areas including training, education, and work related skills, and interview preparations.

A number of LES staff have been with the service since its establishment, including front line reception team, Valerie O'Malley and Helen Culleton.

Over the last quarter century, one of the biggest challenges facing the LES was the economic crash of 2009 and '10, when unemployment spiked to some of the highest levels in decades.

'The situation was very different then, in that the sector hardest hit after the Celtic Tiger era was construction. Now, we are looking at the retail and hospitality industries, where the impact of the lockdowns are likely to be felt.'

'But we have seen the economy and unemployment rates fluctuate often over the years, and have adapted our service accordingly.'

Over the last year, like many services, the LES has faced unprecedented challenges.

'But we have adapted by working remotely, either by telephone or through zoom. Although nothing can replace the face to face approach, our services have thankfully continued to work well.'

Funded by the Department of Social Protection, they work with on average 600 people every year.


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