Kiwis on their OE need all the backup they can get, writes Cliff Taylor.

The OE has been a rite of passage for young New Zealanders for as long as anyone can remember. Generations of Kiwis have headed out into the world with little more than a stuffed backpack and a heart full of hope and adventure.

But it isn't getting any easier.

The global economic downturn has meant that New Zealanders often have to join long queues when looking for jobs overseas. It really is tough out there.

Some modern-day adventurers are putting their trust in organisations such as International Exchange Programs (IEP), rather than doing their OE on a wing and a prayer. IEP won't always find you a job, but it can smooth an increasingly rocky path.


Tuned in

Bruce Huxtable, 29, from Tauranga is working for a radio station in Vancouver, Canada. In 2008 he enrolled for the Summer Camp USA programme through IEP. He enjoyed his role on the camp radio station so much he went back two years later as a counsellor, looking after American teenagers. He's now considering a third stint.

Meanwhile, he has spent time in the UK and Europe on IEP's Work Britain scheme. It was there that he ran into difficulties.

"It was a bit hairy. Ten thousand people were losing their jobs in the City of London, and I arrived into this mess. I needed to survive."

Using IEP's support centre with its job vacancy boards, advice on CVs, job markets and accommodation, he secured temp office work, then a live-in job in a pub in Surrey.

"IEP did everything they could to place people," he says.

"But, if you are not motivated and you go out expecting someone to hand something to you, forget it. You have to have a bit of gumption about you and be persistent."

When he learned that his application to enter Canada had been declined because of what was considered in New Zealand to be a minor traffic offence, he had IEP to sort it out.

"That would have been unbearable if I didn't have someone in New Zealand pulling the strings and keeping the process ticking over. They really bent over backwards for me."

Free skiing

Law and economics graduate Richard Harker, 29, is now working as an EQC claims administrator in Christchurch, but he remembers fondly the year he spent on the Work Canada programme as a ski rental technician and tour guide at Grouse Mountain Resort near Vancouver.

IEP's Work Canada Job Fair offered face-to-face interviews in Auckland with representatives from several Canadian ski fields. He was offered a job and signed up the same day.

"It was far better if I was leaving a good job to know I had something to go to. The money isn't great there so it is a bit of a risk. I met some people who after three weeks they hadn't found a job and they went home."

He had to find his own accommodation, but always felt there was support and information available if he needed it. He wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to others.

"I made great friendships. The free skiing all season was amazing. I am never going to find an office with a better view than that. It was a memorable year, absolutely."

Scary but fun

Finding work in the United States is notoriously difficult and IEP offers a programme tailor-made exclusively for tertiary students or graduates. New Zealand and Australia are the only countries in the world to be offered 12-month student visas for the US and applicants have to go through a supporting organisation to attain one.

Samantha McConnell, 23, from Christchurch and her partner, Jesse Roscoe, are in New York on the Work USA Plus 12-month programme.

McConnell, an AUT communications graduate is working in marketing for a vacation rental firm and Roscoe is working as a production assistant for a film company.

McConnell admits she was daunted by the prospect of moving to New York.

"Packing up and moving to a place you've never been before is scary, especially when it's one of the busiest and biggest cities in the world. I was freaking out about getting a job."

She sold everything she owned and worked hard to raise the money required to live on, but it was the IEP programme which made the adventure possible.

"I chose IEP because you can't get a visa to the US without going through a sponsor and finding a job from New Zealand, and sorting out the visa was too hard. I didn't even think I'd ever get a chance like this because of how hard it is to do independently, so when I found out about the graduate programme and realised it was the best chance I had, I had to take it. It's one of those opportunities you can't miss."

So, would she have attempted the trip independently, knowing all the hurdles? "I don't think so."

"I really think it's helped shape me. I have been recommending it to everyone. It's something everyone should experience."

* IEP offers support for New Zealanders, aged 18-35, including help with working holiday visas, opening a bank account and getting a tax number. Fees range from $345 to $995.