Leaving school is one of life’s big milestones, an exciting time, full of possibilities. But it’s also a time of life-changing decisions for the 60,000 teenagers who walk out the school gates each year, for the final time.

After 12–13 years of being guided by teachers and timetables, knowing where they’re meant to be and what they’re meant to be doing, there’s a blank page full of question marks.

While this can be liberating, it can be daunting too, as they consider the options open to them. Study? Work? Apprenticeship? Gap year?

In 2018 61 percent of the students who left school the year before were enrolled in tertiary education at universities, institutes of technology and polytechnics (ITPs), wa-nanga and private training establishments (PTEs). When it comes to study programmes, the possibilities are countless – architecture, business, communications, dentistry, engineering, filmmaking, graphic design, horticulture … and on through to zoology it goes!

Where/what to study?

Some study programmes are harder to get into than others. Massey University’s Bachelor of Veterinary Science, for example, typically has around 300–330 New Zealand applicants for 100 places.
Some degrees have prerequisite entry requirements, such as minimum rank scores, and students may need to have studied certain subjects or achieved credits in particular subjects. There can be additional requirements too, such as an interview, portfolio or references.

It’s interesting to note that some qualifications are offered in different ways. For example, the New Zealand Certificate in Arboriculture is available through the Primary Industry Training Organisation as an apprenticeship, and through Waikato Institute of Technology as a full-time course.

How to pay for it

What to study is just part of the picture; how to pay for it is another. In 2017, the median annual student loan was $8,270, while the median overall balance on graduating was around $18,700.

The financial burden on students has eased a bit since 2018 when zero fees for the first year of study was introduced, with apprentices and industry trainees entitled to two years of fees-free training, because their courses are part-time.

After the first year of study, you’re typically looking at around $7,000–$8,000 per year in tuition fees for an undergraduate degree. An interest-free student loan is available to cover fees, course-related costs and to subsidise living expenses, with a student allowance available to some students, dependent on their parents’ income.
It’s significantly cheaper to live at home while studying, rather than moving away. A single fully catered room in a hall of residence will set students and/or their families back between $14,000 and $17,000 per year.

What about an apprenticeship?

On-the-job training and apprenticeships have the advantage of allowing young people to earn while they learn. Apprenticeships are offered in a variety of professions, from building and tourism to hairdressing and horticulture.
Apprentices work for, and learn from, an employer while completing on-the-job and written assessments and attending courses. The average apprenticeship takes 3–4 years, depending on the choice of trade.
You don’t always have to wait until leaving school to start a trade. Trade academies – a partnership between schools, industry training organisations and employers – enable students in Years 11 to 13 to combine study towards NCEA credits and a tertiary qualification at Level 1, 2 or 3.
Similarly, Gateway programmes allow students to explore job options while studying towards NCEA.

Employment resources available

Some teens are keen to get into the workforce straight from school, either temporarily to earn money to fund travels or a dream project, or to start working towards their career goals.

It’s worth pointing them in the direction of Employment New Zealand’s website
www.employment.govt.nz to make sure they’re receiving what they’re entitled to. The ‘Young Employees’ page has some helpful resources, including links to job-seeker websites and a salary guide, as well as a useful ‘Tips for Parents’ section.
Remember too, that people often find work through contacts, so spread the word to friends and colleagues that they’re looking for a job and arm them with the skills they’ll need to be successful.

According to Careers NZ, the seven essential skills employers are looking for are: positive attitude, communication, teamwork, self-management, willingness to learn, thinking skills (problem solving and decision making) and resilience.
Getting to work on time with the gear they need, listening carefully, asking questions if they don’t understand something and leaving their phone in their bag are good initial tips to equip them with.

Gap year an option

Another popular option for school leavers is to take a gap year to explore the world and/or decide what it is they really want to do. This can be self-driven, along the lines of a traditional OE, or supported via an organisation such as Latitude, Camp America or Volunteer Service Abroad.
Whatever ideas your young person is tossing about, the Careers NZ website is worth checking out. It has career-finding tools, information on study, training and scholarships, over 400 job profiles, tips on finding work and much more.
Visit www.careers.govt.nz.


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