The 12 Blogs of Christmas – #8

12 blogs cover

AnnaPost #8 appropriately enough draws on the 8th day of Christmas. Anna Sage (AFHRINZ) is a Wellington-based OD & HR Change Manager and Consultant. A stalwart of Wellington HRINZ Special Interest Groups, she’s a familiar face at local networking events and conferences. Anna describes herself as “the daughter of a Presbyterian Minister who received his BSc from Canterbury University College of the University of New Zealand in 1952. I have an undergraduate degree from the ‘university of life’ and a post-graduate qualification from having been in and around HR and OD for over 28 years. I currently have no religious affiliations.” You can connect with her at or on Twitter @AnnaKSage.

Tertiary degree – A blessing or a curse?

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, eight conferring varsities, seven swans a-swimming………………….…
Ok, so in the original song it’s “eight maids a-milking” but I’m lactose-intolerant so I’d rather have the conferring universities thanks. According to this website the “eight maids a-milking” refers to the eight beatitudes. Unfortunately three years of secondary school Latin couldn’t help me out, so I asked my friend Wikipedia who reminded me that the term beatitude comes from that Latin adjective beatitudo which means ‘happy, fortunate, or blissful’. The Eight Beatitudes describe the blessings given in the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ in the Book of Matthew. Righto – glad I could clarify that then.

The theme for this blog was prompted by a discussion on the HRINZ LinkedIn discussion group about a person who graduated in 2007 but hadn’t been able to find a permanent job relevant to their field of study. The graduate had posted their certificate for sale on Trade Me with a $1 reserve. Unfortunately the listing and seller (Gabocha) ‘disappeared’ before the ‘auction’ closed, but there were some interesting discussions on both threads about the value of a tertiary qualification and what universities should (or shouldn’t) be doing to help graduates find suitable jobs.

New Zealand universities have been conferring degrees since 1874, but until recently there’s been no in-depth study on whether or not having a tertiary degree is a blessing or a curse. For 35 years until 2008, the New Zealand Vice-Chancellors’ Committee (now Universities New Zealand) researched and published the Graduate Destinations Survey that questioned all NZ university graduates about their employment outcomes six months after graduation. It was a fairly blunt instrument to say the least.

That survey has now been replaced by the Graduate Longitudinal Study New Zealand which released its Baseline Survey in April 2012. The study surveyed more than 8700 final-year students in August and December 2011, with the next survey of the same cohort currently underway. The study plans to complete further surveys of the study cohort in 2016 and 2021.

The Summary Baseline Survey Report stated that “In terms of emotional wellbeing, the sample scores were normally distributed, and comparable with other student surveys, with (as expected) a minority reporting low levels of wellbeing.” The full report provides a detailed break-down (pp107-114) of the scales and scores for the:
• Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale
• Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale
• General Self-Efficacy Scale
• Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support
• Big Five Inventory

Once the euphoria of completing their degree and graduating has worn off, it will be interesting to see what impact the last two years of slow job growth have had on their physical and emotional wellbeing, and healthy behaviour.

The Summary Report also stated that “The three most frequently given reasons for graduates choosing a field of study were: (i) a strong interest in the topic / field {77.1%}, (ii) wanting to pursue a career in this topic / field {71.4%}, and (iii) to increase earning potential {34.5%}. However, the report goes on to say that “With regard to their 2011 work status and financial circumstances, 40% of the graduates were not employed, either full- or part-time, when they were studying. Among those employed, the work was related to the course of study about 50% of the time.”

So of all students, 60% worked whilst they studied but for half of them their employment wasn’t “career-enhancing.” Looking at it from another angle, up to 70% of graduates may have the qualification for the jobs they’re applying for but they don’t have the relevant experience – if they have any recent work experience at all. This inevitably puts them towards the bottom of the heap when hiring managers naturally have a preference to hire someone with relevant skills and experience.

Survey participants reported that they intended to pursue a career (73.4%) and / or job (48.9%) in the next two years (pp88). A career was defined as “long term progression” whilst a job was “something immediate that will provide you with a wage.” The top three reasons (pp93) that were important to them in terms of choosing a career / job were:
1. Job satisfaction – 52.33%
2. Financial security – 41.0%
3. A good work / life balance – 25.7%

This group of students are graduating with significant levels of student debt, other debts and ongoing financial obligations, as well as a low asset base. In the late 1980s Marsha Sinetar published a book called “Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow: Discovering Your Right Livelihood”. It will be interesting to see if the plans and aspirations of the study participants have been met over the last two years.

The study also seeks to measure some less tangible factors (pp95-7, 115-6) such as:
• Goals, Aspirations and Values
• Conventional Values
• Altruism
• Local community involvement
• National / International community involvement

The report stated that “Local community involvement (in many forms), initiative and altruism were clearly valued and evident among this group of graduates, with a premium placed on multiculturalism and tolerance of different lifestyles. Approximately 20% of the graduates reported active involvement in national or international community organisations.”

Where to from here?
The summary report states that “Over time, the GLSNZ should help inform stakeholders seeking to optimise multiple aspects of the tertiary contribution to the national good, that is, the launch-pad (University), the transition into employment and becoming a civic-minded citizen, and career trajectories. This should have significant private and public benefits for those attending, running and funding New Zealand’s eight Universities, as well as for New Zealanders more generally.”

However, a read of the government’s draft Tertiary Education Strategy makes no mention of how Tertiary Education Organisations will support the transition into employment for undergraduates unless they’re deemed to be ‘at-risk.’ My concern is that unless we as a HR profession do something about it, our society is creating a generation of well-qualified, debt-laden, inexperienced, under-employed, disillusioned young people. I’d like to think the government’s strategy would address that, but I’m not holding my breath………………..

Previous posts in the series
The 12 Blogs of Christmas #1
The 12 Blogs of Christmas #2
The 12 Blogs of Christmas #3
The 12 Blogs of Christmas #4
The 12 Blogs of Christmas #5
The 12 Blogs of Christmas #6
The 12 Blogs of Christmas #7
The 12 Blogs of Christmas – my gift to you

5 thoughts on “The 12 Blogs of Christmas – #8

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