Each week the New Zealand Herald and Newstalk ZB's Cooking The Books podcast tackles a different money problem. Today, it's whether university is still your golden ticket to a good career. Hosted by Frances Cook.

When I was in high school, the advice was clear. Get good marks, get into university, and then swan into a high-paying job that you enjoy.

What specifically you should study wasn't discussed as much. The thinking was that, as long as you went to university, you'd be fine.

Maybe study something you enjoy, because then you'll "never work a day in your life".


Well, myself and my fellow graduates faced a rude shock when it came to the end of our expensive degrees.

Not only were entry-level jobs thin on the ground, but the pay was abysmal. When we finally got employed, it turned out even a job you enjoy is still work.

We weren't alone. The latest stats from the Ministry of Education show the pay you can expect after earning your degree is dropping.

You do still get a boost to your wages from having a degree, but while overall national pay rates are increasing, the pay bonus from all kinds of degrees are dropping across the board.

Internationally, New Zealand doesn't compare well.

The latest report from the OECD says Kiwis get some great qualifications, but they're in areas where there are too many people for the jobs available. So New Zealand workers are above average in settling for jobs they're overqualified for.

You graduate with a double hit to your finances. You not only have tens of thousands of debt to pay off, but you've also not been earning because you were out of the workforce for several years.

Meanwhile, the tradies are doing great.


They might not earn quite as much, but their wages are increasing rather than decreasing, and they earn while training instead of building up debt.

MBie's job listings data also shows the hottest demand is for semi-skilled workers, particularly those in construction, including labourers and machinery drivers.

These figures show that qualifications don't necessarily equal skills. But it's skills that employers care about.

I called Berl executive director and chief economist, Dr Ganesh Nana, to ask if university was worth it.

Although some of the answer depended on the person involved, he agreed the traditional degree was being oversold.

"We've got to get past this generalisation that degrees are good, and anything below it is bad."


He said the older generation had gone to university and it served them well, but times had now changed.

"At the moment we lack the core information about, what are the opportunities this training path might lead to, what are the salary options, what are the doors that we're closing as opposed to the doors that we're opening?

"All of those things need to be put in front of us before we go down this path."

For the full interview on whether university is worth it, listen to the podcast.

You can now subscribe on iTunes or the Apple podcasts app. Click here for episodes.

If you have questions about this episode, or suggestions for the next one, come and talk to me online. I'm on Facebook here, and Twitter here.