High housing costs limiting ability of students to do internships, getting a start in their dream industry

Corazon Miller
Source: 1News

The housing crisis is not just costing students a place to stay, but also the chance to get their foot on the employment ladder.

Students who already struggle to pay growing accommodation costs during the year are now losing out on invaluable work experience over the summer.

The price of working away from home for the entire holiday period is one that's unaffordable for many.

Jack Collins is a student at Massey University in the Auckland suburb of Albany. When he first began his studies he was majoring in Zoology.

But getting experience in the field was a challenge with limited internship options related to zoology in Auckland and the price of going elsewhere costly.

"My first year of accommodation did drain a good chunk of my wallet, so staying outside of Auckland, and paying for fuel, and food and accommodation just wasn't really an option."

This lack of opportunity in the field made him begin to rethink his career prospects and pivot towards computer science.

"It does get pretty frustrating...you are kind of being held back by factors that you didn't really consider."

Others have gone to extreme measures to get the experience they need to give their dream careers a kickstart.

Wellington student Brad Mudgway made the decision to sleep rough on Waiheke this summer, so he could make the most of his time as an intern.

He has spent most of the last few weeks sleeping in the back of his car.

"Because of the costs of staying, I basically decided that for me, I would have the choice between working part-time to support myself to live, or studying full-time and camping and living in my car somewhere free."

He says working part-time would have cost him time away from his studies.

"I think it's really a shame, because ultimately experiences are what motivates people...no-one wants to work for the sake of working, you want to earn your living," he says.

"Ultimately while you study you want to focus on [that] because you are passionate about that field."

Thanks to the support from the community; and the good weather, his time sleeping rough on the island has been more of an adventure than a hardship.

"There's a lot of community food, available for free and other sorts of support," he says. "So that's made it really smooth and easy."

But not everyone has been so lucky.

"A classmate of mine said she really, really wanted to do it. But she just frankly couldn't afford to."

Geordie Rogers, from tenants' advocacy group Renters United, said the situation was creating a divide in the job market.

"We are going to see one third of New Zealanders not being able to compete on the same level as the other two-thirds. Not bing able to get those entry level jobs, not going to be able to progress through their careers."

He says the lack of career prospects in turn compounding their ability to find a place to call home.

"The idea that you rent a house, then you own a house is totally impossible when you are not afforded the opportunity to work a good job."

And as the university year begins, the concern is the struggle for students is just beginning.

Jack Collins says two of his friends had been looking for a place; one of them living in a car as they waited for a space to become available.

Ben Austin, the 2021 president for the Albany Students' Association said it was "heart-breaking" to see accommodation and living costs get in the way of his fellow students dreams.

He says many students have approached the association to apply for hardship grants that will enable them to get on their feet as the academic year gets underway.

"A lot of the students are just going pay check to pay check," he says.