Placement poverty: Putting the boot in to people who power our social infrastructure

Placement poverty is a real thing. I had to do around 1,400 hours of unpaid placement work for my degree and around 1,800 while I was at TAFE. It was incredibly valuable experience but I could only afford it because I lived at home and cost of living was much lower then.

I now routinely see postgraduate students who are unable to find any accomodation they can afford in Sydney. Who are having to choose between study and sleep because they still have to work more than 40 hours per week just to survive. Who often have to support dependents and family while they study full time because they’re under pressure to get their qualification quickly.

It’s often worse for undergraduate students in nursing, teaching and allied health. These students have to do hundreds of hours of unpaid placements as part of their training – mostly for the government agencies they’ll then go on to work for. These placements are often months-long blocks, making it difficult to earn any income while completing them.

Even though government has recognised the issue, it’s telling that they’ve made clear that addressing this is not a priority.

There’s a simple truth underpinning this: there’s never been a worse time to be a student.

Like thousands of other nursing students, Victoria Robinson needs to complete more than 800 hours of unpaid work placements to graduate.

And while the experience is valuable, the third-year student says juggling months of 12-hour shifts at a hospital, along with the work that pays her bills, is difficult…

“Throughout my last placement, I became ill. I had to go to the doctor. It was either the doctors that week or food,” she said.

“It might sound a bit dramatic, but it was $60 for the doctors or $60 for the food.”

It’s known as ‘placement poverty’ — and it’s ‘exploiting’ a generation of Australian students

‘Paying to be exploited’: The heavy tolls ‘placement poverty’ is exacting on students