The job market is cruel to graduates

Last updated 16:03 09/05/2017

"We study for years, get a degree, graduate, then the job hunt begins - and sometimes never ends."

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When my father was 14 he walked into a store down the street, asked if they had work, and was offered his first job. Times have definitely changed since then.

At 15, after a year of applying for work and being told I was too young, I got a job in the fast food industry. At 16 I moved out of home, and at 18 I enrolled in a photography diploma at a New Zealand tertiary institute. I had studied and done well in media studies at high school, and knew this was the path for me.

I worked hard, gaining two diplomas, and spent my student life living in dingy, rotten flats, working 20 hours a week in a fast food restaurant and struggling to get by with the measly $176 a week loan from StudyLink.

In New Zealand, arts degrees are often criticised for being “worthless”, so I studied for a further three years to gain business and marketing qualifications to back me up. A $50,000 loan, one internship and countless one-off jobs later and I still couldn't get work in the industry I studied for as I was "inexperienced" or "too young".

A job hunter's plea to employers
Ready and willing, but no work
Getting a job is like winning lotto
200 applications, 12 replies

The thing is, this isn't just my experience - it’s the same for 20-somethings across the country.

We study for four years, get a degree or relevant qualification, graduate, and the job hunt begins - and sometimes never ends. The job market in New Zealand is far too difficult for young people.

Want to work in the trades? You'll need a car, your own gear, a current first aid certificate, a current Site Safe, a full licence, a pre-trade qualification, three years' experience, and an apprenticeship that you can only get by working for several years with the same company.

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Want to work in a storeroom? You'll need a full licence, several years' experience and a forklift licence.

Want to work in retail? You'll need a retail qualification, several years' experience, and sometimes even a licence.

Want to work in hospitality? You'll need your LCQ qualification, a barista certificate, a hospitality certificate, several years' experience, possibly your Duty Manager's license, and definitely a car.

Want to work in marketing or business? You'll need a degree or two, three to four years' experience, references, a portfolio of your work, a full licence, and to be willing to accept minimum wage as your starting rate.

job hunting

It's unreasonable to expect those who've just finished studying to have the money and time to complete all these tasks; “entry-level” positions should not need three years’ experience. There are hundreds of applicants for every position advertised, and the demands are too high for recent graduates.

I can’t count on both hands the number of people I know of my age who have had to move back home after university because they can’t afford to live. I also can’t count how many people have had to return to workplaces such as fast food restaurants, unable to find work in their field because they lack experience; how many are living paycheck to paycheck, struggling under the weight of a $50,000 loan.  

I understand why, in this year alone, 10 people I know have moved abroad to find work. I understand why youth unemployment in New Zealand is so high.

Things aren’t necessarily better once you do find a job. I’ve managed to break into the photography industry now, but at almost every company I have suffered harassment, faced disrespect from employers and struggled to get the hours I need to survive.

Perhaps the money that goes on bosses’ six-figure salaries would be better spent on hiring recent graduates and paying them a decent wage. Unfortunately, it seems New Zealand employers wouldn’t agree.

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