Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Kerre Woodham: Paid placements are not a new idea

A petition has been set up asking for students on placement to receive a stipend from the Government, because as part of their qualifications many students, like those in healthcare, social work, and education, are required to complete unpaid placements to practically apply what they've learnt. And it's a really, really good idea because quite often, the theory bears no real relation to reality. You might think you want to be a nurse, and then you're in amongst the blood and the gore and you think, ‘maybe not. Maybe not. Maybe I'll go to being a researcher, apply all that knowledge and learning to being a researcher rather than being at the grunt end of things.’ So, you need to know what you're getting yourself in for, otherwise it can be a waste of training.

However, masters student Bex Howells says unpaid placements are causing huge financial hardship for students. They need to take on extra work to pay their bills, but if you're working all day, studying the rest, you've got between the hours of 1am and 3am to find work. So, eight months ago Bex started Paid Placements Aotearoa as a social media movement to get students paid for their placements, and that led her to launch a petition to get students in health care, social work, and education paid for the work that they do.

It's not a new idea. As of next year, the Australian government will pay teachers, midwives, and nurses $320 a week (that would be $350 odd New Zealand dollars a week) during their mandatory placements, but it will be means tested. So, campaigners and students here have been fighting for a similar payment. Previous Health Minister Andrew Little had considered it for 3rd year students. Bex Howells says there are ways and means to make a stipend work.

“My proposal is that we pay students a stipend, which effectively is like topping up their study link allowance so that they're being paid at least equivalent to the minimum wage because they have huge amounts of costs involved with training on top of actually doing the unpaid labour, and they need to be able to meet those costs of training so that they can actually prioritise learning and working rather than survival.”

Yes. So, I mean, I think we all know that a lot of the med students, the nursing students, the midwifery students are really putting in the hours and to all intents and purposes they’re another set of trained hands on the wards, and yet they're not. They're supposed to be students, they're supposed to be learning, they're supposed to be shadowing. She says we pay police to train, we pay prison officers, customs officers, the military, yet for some reason, if you're a nurse, a teacher, a social worker, or a midwife you're not paid to train.

We heard from a couple of people a few years ago who were in just this bind. Living in and training in one city but their placement’s in another city, so they have to give up a flat or else they have to keep paying for the flat while finding alternative accommodation in the city or town that they're being placed in. You're not always placed just down the road from where you live, so it's an extra financial burden on top of what is already a tough time, and yet you're expected to work. You're not expected to just sit there taking notes.

So, it seems reasonable, does it not, to give them a bit more than the student allowance? A number of these students, these teachers, these midwives are older. They're coming into it as a second career. So, they might have children and childcare, and it's a huge juggling act. And that's their choice and they know to a certain extent what they're getting into, but I don't think anybody has any real idea till you're in the thick of it. And great if you've got the Bank of Mum and Dad, supportive parents that you can tap into, but we don't want these careers only open to those families who can afford to subsidise their children on behalf of the rest of the taxpayers. We're all going to benefit by having these people well trained, well suited for their careers. And it's asking a lot of these young people, and of these mature students, that they give up the opportunity to work extra hours to make ends meet because they simply can't when they're on placement, they're studying and on placement.

So, what do you think is fair? I'm quite happy to pay for them in terms of paying them a stipend that helps them cover the cost of their bills while they are unable to do extra work, while they are focused on their training. Sign them up for a bond if needs be. You know, if you if you take the stipend that gives you an extra $150 a week, or however much it is it. We're not talking of fortune here. If you take the stipend, that means you don't have to worry about trying to find extra work, then we'll bond you for a couple of years and that seems to be a good quid pro quo.

Kerre McIvor, is a journalist, radio presenter, author and columnist. Currently hosts the Kerre Woodham mornings show on Newstalk ZB - where this article was sourced.

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