Almost a year after graduating as an occupational therapist, Karen Hall is struggling to find a job.

The mother-of-two says she has applied for about 40 positions around the country - many of them a step removed from what she is qualified for - and one in Australia, but she has secured only about six interviews.

The job is listed on Immigration's long-term skills shortage list but the industry has seen an abundance of entry-level workers competing for the same jobs as the first students graduate from the new occupational therapy course at the Waikato Institute of Technology.

And following a change within the ACC in March, positions with health providers that have contracts with the corporation for vocational rehabilitation services are only open to those with 24 months' experience.


Mrs Hall and her two daughters, aged 6 and 19, have been living off her husband's $65,000-a-year pay packet while struggling to pay off their $330,000 mortgage and also have her $40,000 student loan hanging over their heads. The 40-year-old, who has a diploma in accounting and finance, decided on a career change in 2008 and left her job working as an assistant accountant with the Inland Revenue in Tauranga.

Her family moved to Auckland where she completed her degree at the Auckland University of Technology. She graduated in November last year with B+ marks and has since applied for positions within government agencies, charities, rest homes, schools and churches.

"I was getting really discouraged but the feedback I was getting was to just keep trying, putting my CV out there," Ms Hall said.

She suspects her age might have been a disadvantage. A handful of students from her class had moved around rural New Zealand or secured jobs in Australia.

"They're young, unmarried and have that flexibility to be able to just pack up and leave but I don't have that luxury with a family," she said. "They're doing really well, they're loving it and they're getting paid well."

As well as the 60 graduates from her class, and others from the same course at Wintec in Hamilton and Otago Polytechnic last year, she is now competing with this year's graduates for jobs.

Ms Hall was hired for a six-month contract working with dementia patients at a North Shore rest home in April but was dismissed within her 90-day trial period with no explanation given, she said. The position was only 30 hours a week, and paying $17 an hour.

She has written to Northcote MP Jonathan Coleman asking what the Government is doing to keep skilled workers in New Zealand when there are few opportunities.


In a letter seen by the Herald, he acknowledged that finding work may be harder than in the past, but added that of the 120 occupational therapy graduates in the 2010-2011 year, about 90 applied for registration and an annual practising certificate, indicating they were employed.

But Ms Hall said workers were unable to practise without the papers and would have wanted to show future employers on their CV that they were registered. She has moved back to Tauranga in the hope of securing a job through contacts.

The long term skills list why it exists

The long-term skills shortage list includes more than 60 jobs in several industries in which Immigration New Zealand has identified a skills shortage.

It is commonly used by migrants to apply for temporary work and residency applications. They can claim bonus points toward visas if their qualifications and skills are recognised on the list.

Updated twice a year, with the latest review completed in July, industry groups such as trade unions and training institutes can submit proposals for an occupation to be added or excluded from the data.

Immigration looks at education available to estimate apprentice or graduate numbers, and the numbers of workers expected to leave or retire from the industry. It needs evidence of employers having difficulty finding staff and has to establish that the shortage is not employer specific.

The job must be classed as highly skilled, as per the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations. There must be an ongoing and sustained shortage, both globally and in New Zealand, it must be across all regions of the country and the job must have a base salary of at least $45,000 based on a 40-hour working week.

The industry must be committed to training New Zealanders and utilising domestic workers before considering employing overseas workers.

Immigration also has an immediate skills shortage list to fill short-term gaps and a Canterbury skills shortage list with Christchurch-specific jobs following the earthquakes.