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NZ Is Training Australia’s Workforce. This Generosity Has To Stop.

New Zealand is desperately struggling to train and retain its healthcare, teaching, and social work professionals. With an ageing, retiring workforce and a mass exodus to Australia for better pay and conditions, our remaining workers are holding the seams of this ‘fragile’ system together.

“It takes years to train these highly skilled, highly qualified professionals but because of the unpaid practical placement requirements we are seeing students drop out of training at rates of up to 45%,” says Paid Placements Aotearoa spokesperson, Bex Howells.

Between unpaid placements, ongoing study commitments, and paid work on top, students are often working 80-hour weeks to make ends meet. “We are burning our workforce out before they’ve even begun. Placement poverty is plunging our trainees into debt just to survive,” says Ms Howells. There have even been reports of medical students sleeping in cars and nursing students living in sheds. They cannot afford to meet their basic human needs.

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If students do make it through these rigorous training programs, they are incentivised to move overseas for better paying jobs in order to pay off the debt they have accumulated during training here. Australia is benefiting from our systemic failures.

With a global shortage of healthcare workers, teachers, and other essential services, relying on professionals moving here from overseas is not a long-term solution. “For sustainable workforce development, we must incentivise people to train domestically,” says Ms Howells.

NZ Police pay their recruits for 20 weeks of training at Police college, while providing bed and board. Their workforce has grown 21% since 2017 and is the most diverse it’s ever been. “Paid training can be done because it is being done and it works,” Ms Howells says.

Paid Placements Aotearoa has launched a petition calling on the government to pay students to train in registered professions with chronic staff shortages. Students should be paid a non-repayable stipend through StudyLink that is equivalent to at least the training wage in first year, minimum wage in second year, living wage in 3rd year and above.

“We just want students to have enough to cover their basic living costs so they can focus on completing their training and joining the workforce,” says Ms Howells.

Paid training will make these professions more accessible to diverse demographics, including Māori, Pasifika, and mature students – people who already have roots here and are more likely to stay.

“Our future workforce deserve to live with dignity whilst they train,” Ms Howells says. “And long-term, well-resourced services mean better access to quality treatment, education, and support for whānau and community. Paid training is a win win for us all.”

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