New grad nurse market tightest yet

4 February 2014

Despite the ‘rock star economy’ the job market for new grad nurses is tougher than ever with more applicants and less jobs than the same time last year.

In early December last year, only 605 new graduate nurses had been recruited into new graduate programmes compared to 730 at the same time the previous year.

That number swelled by a hundred jobs over the summer break to reach 705 by January 22. But the number of applicants to the ACE “one stop job shop” for government-subsidised new grad jobs had also swelled by 90 over the previous year (NB: The Ministry of Health says the statistic quoted in the Dominion Post on January 22 of 782 new grad applicants being offered jobs on NETP and NESP programmes by January 21 was incorrect and they were not sure of the source of the figure).

It appears for the fourth year in row employed nurses remain reluctant to change employer or retire, so nurse turnover remains low which, combined with tight district health board budgets, is leading to low vacancy rates around the country. But the three Auckland boards have managed to take on the same or more new graduates than the previous year (230) employing about a third of the graduates.

“Anecdotally I don’t believe there is a lot of movement in DHB positions,” says Nurse Executives NZ (NENZ) chair Denise Kivell.

“Our vacancy rate is extremely low – I would imagine it’s less than two per cent – and our turnover rate is very low as well,” says Kivell, who is the director of nursing for Counties Manukau DHB. 

Likewise the country’s largest DHB, Auckland, reported that its nurse turnover rate had fallen from 10.9 per cent in December 2012 to 8.7 per cent in December 2013.

Auckland DHB has a vacancy driven model and in late November only had 53 places available for its 509 applicants but by the start of February had taken on 78 new graduates (four up on the same time last year).

Neighbouring and smaller Counties Manukau DHB takes on new graduates on one-year contracts and had offered 65 new grad positions in early December to its 415 applicants but signed up 79 new graduates by the start of February – the same as the previous year. 

Kivell said to do so it had to go over its staffing establishment numbers as it was also seeking permanent jobs for the cohort completing their 12 month contracts which by the start of February it had done for all but four of the cohort. Counties Manukau had the highest number of graduates (13) being funded through VCLA (very low cost access) scholarships into jobs in general practices (see other story).

Jacqui Finch, Waitemata DHB nursing workforce development consultant, said its turnover was also low, limiting the places it could offer under its vacancy-driven model but it had increased places from an initial 61 in early December to 73 by early February (three up on the previous year).

The previous year 59 per cent of applicants had jobs across the country by early December 2012, but only 45.5 per cent had at the same point in 2013.   This figure had only improved by late January to about 53 per cent of the 1328 applicants having found places in NETP (nursing entry to practice) or NESP (mental health) new graduate programmes.

Additional funding available to provide extra support to graduates taken on by the residential aged care sector has also not translated into many more jobs with the total number of graduates being taken on by the sector in Auckland region just seven to date - two in Auckland DHB, two in Waitemata and three in Counties Manukau.

However, Ministry of Health chief nurse Jane O’Malley said the medium and long-term employment prospects for nurse graduates was good.  She said the 2013 statistics showed new graduates don’t always receive job offers “immediately” but by four months after graduation the annual NETS survey indicated about 75 per cent of November 2012 graduates had gained nursing jobs with a number of those finding work in private hospitals and other jobs not included in the ACE process

She also said that Ministry of Health and Nursing Council modeling both showed that the number of nurses would need to increase to cope with the growing and ageing population.

“We also know that as the economy recovers an increasing number of nurses are likely to reduce their hours of work or change careers creating more positions for new graduates.”