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Graduates enter shrinking market

Retention strategies are urgently needed as graduate employment has weakened in recent years, an inquiry into insecure work has been told. By Linda Belardi.

The Queensland nurses’ union has called for urgent stimulus funding to secure employment for thousands of nursing graduates unable to find jobs in the state’s health system.

In a submission to the ongoing Independent Inquiry into Insecure Work, the union said budget constraints coupled with lower staff attrition had left many new nurses without jobs.

Despite a strong pool of available graduates, the union was concerned Queensland Health was increasingly using casual and agency staff to fill staff vacancies.

“The underemployment of new graduate nurses and midwives comes at a time when Queensland Health continues to engage agency staff on a widespread basis,” QNU told the inquiry.

Since 2006 Queensland university nursing enrolments have increased by more than 60 per cent, while actual employment rates with Queensland Health have jumped by only 25 per cent, said Dr Liz Todhunter, the union’s research and policy officer.

Reports also indicate the oversupply in new graduates in recent years has not been picked up by the private and aged care sectors.

In 2010 alone, 1500 students did not secure a graduate position with Queensland Health, said QNU, and additional money was needed to fund nurse graduate employment programs.

“We believe the state and federal governments must inject urgent transitional funding into the health and aged care sectors to employ the many graduate nurses in Queensland who have missed out on employment since the global financial crisis hit in 2008,” the union told the inquiry.

“We need some stimulus funding for a few years targeted at graduate nurses.”

The union feared if the state and federal governments did not adopt urgent strategies, student graduates could move interstate or be lost to the profession.

Over the next 20 years around two-thirds of the currently employed registered and enrolled nurses in Queensland will be reaching retirement age.

Queensland Health’s Workforce Analysis and Research Unit has predicted a statewide deficit of registered nurses of up to 5000 by 2017. The QNU believed the shortage could be worse than expected if strategies were not implemented to retain new graduates.

The largest growth in student enrolments was planned for Queensland, putting pressure on the state’s already competitive graduate marketplace. Health Workforce Australia data has projected a 38 per cent rise in students enrolled in health courses by 2014.

The QNU called for federal and state governments to develop a new model for the employment of new graduates that would be centrally coordinated and funded.

The national inquiry into insecure work was commissioned by the Australian Council of Trade Unions to examine the extent and impact on workers, their families and the community of insecure work. A submission from the QNU was among more than 500 received by the inquiry, as public hearings held across the nation get under way.

Meanwhile, steps are already occurring to address the issue of graduate underemployment at a national level.

This month, Health Workforce Australia launched a jobs portal directly targeting new nursing and midwifery graduates who have failed to secure a graduate position in state job offers.

The site lists job vacancies for graduates across Australia in both the public and private sectors. To visit the Nursing and Midwifery Graduate Jobs Information Portal, go to: www.nmgj.org.au

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