Most of us will remember the daunting transition from study to full-time work. Leaving the sheltered, structured environment of secondary school or university for the great unknown of employment is one of life's pivotal moments - a passage into adulthood for which many feel unprepared.
New technology, worldwide markets and the fluid nature of working contracts makes the employment market a tricky place to navigate.
Parents of many school leavers will find it hard to relate to the working demands faced by their children. While earlier generations may have been able to count on a career for life, the current employment market is far more diverse and unpredictable.
Julie Thomas from Careers New Zealand says that there are some key differences in the contemporary employment market that mark it out from earlier generations.
"Working hours, for example, may be very different from school leavers' parents or grandparents' days. Many companies operate around the globe and there needs to be people available on site 24 hours a day. This can be hard for older generations to get their head around."
She says that there is much more expectation that workers will engage in ongoing learning and professional development: "There is more a sense of lifelong learning within a career. And workers need to always be prepared for expected and unexpected changes."
The contemporary workforce is more "mobile" (unpredictable); this means young people need to be able to sell their workplace strengths in the event of changing work status.
Before embarking on the hunt for a first job it's important to understand the local labour market.
"Look for opportunities around where you will be living. Christchurch and Auckland, for example, have very buoyant job markets but in different industries," says Thomas.
The Christchurch rebuild has seen huge growth in construction, infrastructure, and development of retail and hospitality industries. Auckland has ongoing demand in telecommunications, technology and health industries.
Other areas of the country will have different requirements.
While in-demand jobs will differ from location to location, there are a number of basic qualities that all employers will look for when employing new staff.
Thomas says these qualities fall under three general categories.
"First, employers want to know if the person can do the job. In practical terms this means they meet the entry requirements, they have the appropriate qualifications and customer service to make sure the job is done well."
She says that the second area of importance to employers is around motivation, attitude and dependability.
"Employees love staff members with a can-do attitude, good habits and resilience. The workplace can be challenging; people who can brush themselves off after a difficult day and go to work the next day with a smile on their face are real assets to any company."
The third desirable quality lies in the worker's ability to integrate seamlessly into the company as a whole.
"This is a slightly more 'magical' quality," says Thomas. "And it can be hard to know if you will fit into a workplace until you start a job there."
A little investigation into a company's customers, ethos and workplace culture can help to inform decisions around your suitability in the environment. Look at their websites and see if there is any media coverage around the company.
"It's also good to talk to people who work there and discuss what the culture is like," says Thomas.
Some school leavers will look for a job straight from school, but Thomas says that a tertiary qualification can offer those new to the workforce an edge over their competition.
"Studies have shown that the chances of getting a job increase greatly if people have a qualification."
She says there is a big push for people to engage with STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths). Talking to school careers counsellors or people at places like Careers New Zealand can help identify which tertiary courses would most suit the school leaver.
Whether moving from tertiary or secondary training, the transition from study to work is likely to be challenging. The development of particular qualities (such as resilience, good time management, customer service and good communications skills) can be developed before leaving school, enabling new workers to engage more effectively with their new environment.
Part-time jobs and voluntary work undertaken alongside secondary or tertiary study will help with development of these qualities.
"Many part-time jobs that people hold while studying can be a little menial," says Thomas. "But it's important to reframe your experience, to look at what skills you are learning, rather than being negative about the role."
She says that all part-time jobs can help develop desirable work skills, such as customer service, initiative and good time-keeping habits.
Thomas encourages young people to look for ways to extend themselves in these roles.
"Look for opportunities to show initiative and make the job more interesting for yourself," she says.
"If you are bored in the job try to 'grow the job' to suit your skills and interests."
Volunteer work can also help young people gain desirable workplace qualities. "Even door-knocking or fundraising can help to develop people skills and confidence," she says.
There are certain skills that can be developed long before young people enter the workforce. Thomas says it is possible to start preparing children for working life from a young age.
"Involving children in decision-making can help them to develop reasoning, negotiating and teamwork skills. Even if it's just asking questions about where to go on holiday or what to have for dinner, asking questions and engaging with your children in decision-making can set them up with skills that will be invaluable in the workforce."
She says that once young people are ready to enter the workforce, it's important for parents to provide support when needed, but also to learn to step away.
"Young people have less life experience and will need support, but we need to allow them to learn from their mistakes. Realise that this is part of their growing and learning experience - they are young adults and they need to develop their autonomy."