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Where do our graduates end up once they finish studying?

Friday, October 07, 2016

For a major portion of New Zealanders, their time studying at university marks their first major step on their career path. While they may start focussing their academic interests towards the end of high school, everything gets a bit more serious – and a bit closer to becoming a reality – once people start their tertiary study.

However, while many studies will look to the number of students entering university to get an idea of where they might be headed, it's also important to investigate how their careers actually manifest once they graduate. To that end, the first update for The Graduate Longitudinal Study New Zealand (GLSNZ) sheds significant light on how graduates actually engage with the workforce.

The study looks at how people's eventual careers connect with what they studied. With ongoing talks of brain drain for our best and brightest and continued talks of a need for more people in IT jobs, there's still a lot that could change.

Is higher education benefiting the population?

The GLSNZ marks the first major investigation into who the country's graduates are and the effect of tertiary study on their ongoing career. With nearly 9,000 students across eight universities committing to the original 2011 survey, this latest update is the first chance get an idea of where that sample group is heading.

One positive to emerge from the results is that 95 per cent of the respondents completed the qualification they were in the middle of when the survey began. Overall, nearly one in five (17 per cent) have a higher qualification now than they did in 2011 as well.

Just as interesting, however, is the fact that qualifications, for the most part, are leading people to the right jobs. Almost two-thirds (64 per cent) said their current roles are directly related to the fields they studied, meaning people are managing to connect the dots and find their way from study to a desirable career.

The study also found that, despite the growing demands on IT recruitment, it's not as popular a choice as other degrees. According to the GLSNZ, the education and training sector took the highest proportion of graduates (around 18 per cent), while just 4 per cent of this specific sample went into the information and communication technology sector.

The brain drain may be easing

News of brain drains and skill shortages is generally stressful for employers, as it can tighten what's already a challenging market in which to secure talent. It's a topic that has been raised in New Zealand in the past, but research published by Massey University last year suggests it may ease. Not only does Massey University PhD graduate David Ellis feel like the number leaving may drop, but also that the country may find itself in a "reverse brain drain".

According to Ellis, the factors that often lead people to foreign shores aren't always as attractive in the long run, and it doesn't take much for them to be lured home by family, friends or other job prospects.

"Many come back when they are at the stage of career maintenance," he began. "Their career is important to them and they still want to contribute in positive ways to New Zealand businesses, but progressing their career is not their sole focus.

"Against this background, the vast majority of people I spoke to found work relatively quickly and they didn't have to step down to achieve that."

The GLSNZ also found that many domestic graduates are still located here in New Zealand currently. While 49 per cent do leave country at some point, this category includes time spent holiday or pursuing further qualifications.

With a combination of new graduates setting up base in New Zealand, and a wealth of others returning home with new qualifications and work experience, it's possible that the drive to find capable talent will get a bit easier for employers.

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