Teaching graduates are struggling to find jobs in Tauranga, with one graduate moving as far as Canterbury to get a start in her career.
Waikato University dean of education Roger Moltzen said the job market for teachers was more competitive than it had been for a long time but predicted a shortage before the decade was out.
The Education Gazette website has just 16 teaching vacancies in the Western Bay of Plenty in early childhood, primary and secondary positions.
Bethlehem Tertiary Institute teacher education programme co-ordinator Cathryn Bell said the 65 per cent employment rate for last year's graduate primary teachers was the lowest it had been for years.
Out of 26 graduates, 17 have jobs but many of those had left the Western Bay to find work.
"Probably the ones that are not employed are the ones that wanted to stay in Tauranga," Mrs Bell said.
"[Not finding employment] is really demoralising for them and us.
It is really hard. We have had some go overseas and some who would not have chosen to go to other parts of New Zealand."
The institute also saw 13 students graduate from the early childhood degree, 22 with secondary degrees, 12 with a diploma in early childhood, and one graduate diploma of early childhood.
The University of Waikato said there were about 50 graduates from the Tauranga campus at the end of last year.
Mrs Bell said she believed the tough job market for graduates was due to a combination of factors, including the baby boomer generation of teachers delaying retirement. "We projected that many 65-plus would begin to retire. Maybe because of the recession, many of those have stayed a few more years. The jobs are not being released."
A rapidly changing population in Tauranga was also affecting job rates, Mrs Bell said.
"All the children who have been in early childhood education are going to flood primary schools."
Another factor was the two-year cycle of teacher registration as schools tend to take on graduates every second year.
Phoebe Ball, who completed an early childhood degree from the University of Waikato's Tauranga campus in November, moved to Ashburton in May for a job. She has a six-month contract at an early childhood centre.
Miss Ball, 21, said she had applied for multiple jobs in Tauranga and the Western Bay but had no success as she was told she was too young or inexperienced.
She was even turned down on her offer to work for free to gain experience, which she said was "pretty gutting" after completing a three-year degree.
The former Mount Maunganui College student would love to return to Tauranga, but did not feel optimistic about her chances. "It's just too hard, even if I did have six months' experience written on my CV."
Chief operations officer for Kiddicorp, Fiona Hughes, said early childhood centres were required to have 80 per cent qualified teachers. "You will probably find that [centres] wouldn't pay for a qualified teacher if they already had 80 per cent. They would probably bring in an unqualified person, as unqualified don't cost as much."
Tauranga Region Kindergarten Association principal Peter Monteith said the few vacancies were attracting high numbers of applicants.
Many were graduates but experienced teachers were also applying, making it harder for beginning teachers.
Otumoetai College principal Dave Randell said few teaching vacancies had become available. Out of a teaching staff of 140, last year just one teacher resigned and another retired.
Mr Randell said he believed there had been few resignations in the last year because many "baby boomer generation" teachers were waiting for retirement. He expected that to happen in the next three to five years, opening up opportunities for new teachers.
Mr Moltzen, of Waikato University, said this was a significant factor in the job shortage.
"[There are an] increasing number of teachers staying in the profession where previously they may have retired."
Graduate hopes relief work will be stepping stone to fulltime role
Jessica Wilde has applied for every suitable primary teaching job between Whakatane and Walton in the past eight months.
But the keen teaching graduate has yet to find a job.
Miss Wilde, 26, is prepared to make a long commute, but she can't leave Tauranga as her 7-year-old daughter is settled here.
The Bethlehem Tertiary Institute graduate started applying for jobs in October before finishing her course in November.
"There are very few jobs available in the Bay of Plenty, particularly for a teacher with no experience," Miss Wilde told the Bay of Plenty Times. "Any jobs I have applied for, I have not even got to the interview stage."
Instead, Miss Wilde has eagerly accepted any opportunity for relief teaching.
Despite her difficulty finding a job, Miss Wilde wouldn't have changed her career path. "I don't regret it because I believe I have all the qualities of a good teacher. It's what I want to do."
She hopes relieving will give her a foot in the door and she will soon find a permanent position.