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About 1500 students graduate from the University of Canterbury today and Friday.
But employment agencies say many students are failing to choose study that will lead to viable job options, and many will leave unsure of job prospects, heavily indebted, and with little clue about what next.
Manpower NZ recruitment general manager Matthew Love-Smith said graduates were failing to shape their study to the demands of the job market, and needed to make decisions early on about where they wanted study to take them.
"Students working through the education system need to be really well informed about what the needs are of the New Zealand industry, and tailoring their education towards that. That decision making needs to happen way before varsity," he said.
"When we look at the top 10 skills in demand, they tend to be engineering, skilled trades, technicians," he said, but less than 5 per cent of this week's graduates will be in engineering.
University of Canterbury's most recent survey on graduate destinations found 70 per cent of qualified students walked into some kind of employment.
But while almost three-quarters said they chose a course of study because they wanted to pursue a career in the field, less than half of the employed worked in their ideal career.
A third felt they were taking a step in the right direction, and one in five were treading water, in employment that they felt was irrelevant to their desired career.
Those graduating in the creative arts had a particularly hard road ahead. Of those who studied visual or performance arts, just a quarter had found full time work a year after graduating, and more than a quarter were unemployed.
Josh Bashford completed honours in fine arts last year. Since then, he's among the lucky few in New Zealand working fulltime as an artist.
Many of his class, he said, had now "just gone into random jobs".
Bashford was lucky to have exhibited with prominent Pacific artists, which he said helped kick-start his career.
"Out of the 100 or so people who go through Canterbury art school each year, maybe 5 per cent will make it," he said.
Around 20 per cent of those graduating this week studied humanities.
The UC survey found a year after graduating, less than a third of these graduates were working fulltime, and nearly a quarter were unemployed.
For those seeking arts careers, competition is high: according to Careers NZ, there were just 166 historians employed in 2012, along with 261 actors, and 105 film directors.
Sam Gavin, 21, was one paper away from completing a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in English and History, and had little idea of what to do post-study.
She said BAs were increasingly common, difficult to market to employers, and required post-graduate study to turn into a career.
She said students needed to "be way more aware of what the jobs actually are, and what qualifications you need to get where you want to be. I rushed into uni because it seemed like the thing to do, whereas if I'd taken time to think, what do I want to do as a job? Then I could choose a course of study to match that."
Chemistry student Phil Emnet will be one of just 72 who graduate with a PhD at this week's ceremony.
Despite being highly qualified, Emnet said he and many of his peers struggled to find work in their area, and he planned to look overseas.
"You're better off in Europe, especially Germany, because they have a very big chemistry industry. New Zealand doesn't have a very big industry - it's all right if you're an engineer, but for science particularly it's not very good."
According to the UC survey, less than half of physical sciences graduates were in fulltime employment a year after graduating.
Emnet said it was not unusual for science PhD students to spend more than a year looking for work.
"You can get jobs if you're lucky with the right contacts, but other than that, it can be very difficult."
A 2011 Ministry of Education study found only two-thirds of doctorate students would be employed in New Zealand four years after completing their qualification.
Doctorate students did, however, have a median income 50 per cent higher than those with a bachelor's degree.
Those graduating this week are likely to earn more than their peers who do not hold a qualification.
43 per cent of graduates find work in their ideal career after a year
30 per cent of humanities graduates are in fulltime work after a year
80 per cent of graduates have a student loan
- © Fairfax NZ News
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