tackling placement poverty

Tackling ‘placement poverty’: Inside the government’s plan to reduce unpaid placements.

Are you a student who has to complete unpaid placements? Are you struggling to make ends meet? There’s some good news for you. In this week’s federal budget, the government has included additional financial support for teaching, nursing and social work students required to undertake mandatory unpaid placements.

But what do these changes mean, and how will they impact the employment market?

Thanks to the ABC and The Guardian, we outline the changes and their potential impacts on the employment market.

What are the changes?

As part of this year’s federal budget, teaching, social work, and nursing students required to complete unpaid placements are now entitled to a $320 placement allowance each week from July 1 next year.

Nursing students are required to complete 800 hours or 20 weeks of unpaid placements. Teaching students, meanwhile, are expected to undertake 600 hours or 16 weeks of unpaid placements. Social work students are expected to complete 1,000 hours or 26 weeks.

Many students have to forgo their part-time jobs to complete these requirements, placing them under severe financial strain. Studies have shown that a quarter of students required to undertake placements lose at least 75% of their income.

As a result, many students are going without food or medical care to meet their course requirements. This has led some to coin the term ‘placement poverty’.  For many, the financial pressures are too much.

Education, social work, and nursing courses have among the highest dropout rates, and many students also choose to defer their courses due to the placement requirements.

What impact will this have on employment?

The teaching, nursing and social work industries are all currently facing extensive skills shortages. It is hoped these changes will help address this issue.

In an interview with The Guardian, before these changes were announced, Christine Morley from the School of Public Health and Social Work at the Queensland University Of Technology said she believed paid placements would make all the difference in attracting students to the social work industry.

“This would be absolutely life-changing. I’ve had people contact me saying, ‘When is this happening – I’ve been wanting to study for years and putting it off because I can’t afford to do the placements – if this comes in, I’m going to enrol tomorrow’’, she said.

However, many believe the changes do not go far enough. The payment will be means-tested, leading to concerns that some students may miss out. Student advocacy groups are concerned the payment isn’t being rolled out fast enough. They are worried that some students currently struggling will have finished their course before the payment comes into effect.

The Federal Greens believe those undertaking paid placements should be paid in line with the minimum wage.

Advocates also believe paid placements should also be extended to other industries including allied health.  There have been suggestions such placements should be funded by the employer, but those in the industry say there is no way this would be feasible. In an interview with The Guardian Scott Willis, President of the Australian Physiotherapy Practice dismissed this idea.

“If there was a reliability on practices to pay students, I can guarantee placements would cease immediately,” he said.

“Practices don’t get paid [for placements] and it requires a significant amount of energy and resources. The only ones that can [fund it] are the government.”

All in all, while more could be done, this will be a welcome relief for thousands of students bearing the brunt of the current cost-of-living crisis.

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