A recruitment day designed to encourage Northern Ireland workers to take up jobs in Canada has led to at least 173 posts being filled.
The figures were produced by the British Columbia Construction Association (BCCA), which had an entire floor to itself at the Europa hotel, where employers set up stalls extolling the virtues of working in Canada.
The single-day exhibition was mainly aimed at hiring steel fabricators, welders and other heavy-industry workers who are needed to fill what organisers said was a skills shortage in the resource-rich west of the country.
The event now moves down to Dublin today and tomorrow, where organisers aim to recruit another 300 or so.
They are still looking for more than 100 steel fixers, only three having turned up in Belfast. The figure of 173 applies to those who have secured posts with employers in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, assuming all the relevant checks are completed successfully.
There was also a downstairs area looking at other trades and other countries, so the actual figure for jobs secured is likely to be higher.
In a post-event statement, Abigail Fulton, the BCCA’s vice-president, said: “One of the really nice things that happened [on Thursday] was quite a few of the job seekers actually made a point of coming over to us to thank us. One fellow was so overjoyed he gave us big hugs.”
Roughly 800-plus attended the event – however, Padraig Yeates, a spokesman for the BCCA, said that this was lower than expected, perhaps because “the heat has gone out of the recession”.
“When they [the BCCA] first came two years ago there were queues out the door,” he added.
Ms Fulton said: “We want to emphasize that this is not a quest for cheap labour abroad. On the contrary, federal Canadian legislation sets minimum rates for inward migrants, which are far higher than the average Canadian minimum wage of $10 (£5.99) an hour.”
She claims that in the province of British Columbia alone up to 30,000 workers would be needed in the next 10 years.
Since first coming two years ago, the BCCA said it has found jobs for 482 workers from Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Peter Bunting, of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, with about 215,000 members in Northern Ireland, said: “People have to make a livelihood for their families, and in the absence of having (any) work in Northern Ireland the prospects for that are very slim.”
He said better investment in manufacturing and other such industries was required to stem the “drain” on such skilled labour going abroad.