One Question Quiz

SocietyMarch 25, 2024

Police get paid to train. Do teachers, nurses and electricians?


A political oopsie revealed that the prime minister is out of touch with police wages, but also that police trainees actually get paid. Does anyone else? 

Generally people expect to pay to learn and be paid for working, but it’s not always clear where one ends and the other begins – there’s traineeships, internships, placements, apprenticeships and even entry-level positions which sit somewhere in between the two.

On-the-job training is an effective way to learn and enter the workforce; the problem is that expectations and pay differ across industries, and the conditions for some trainees seem fiscally impossible. If people are expected to work for free full-time then they must be able to support themselves some other way, which makes it particularly hard for people who don’t have access to family wealth or other financial support.

So how much do people training for different jobs pay or get paid? And what’s the payoff once they enter the workforce?

Police trainees: $50,834.06 plus benefits

In case you missed it, people in their (free) 20 week training at the Royal NZ Police College get an annual salary of $50,834.06 plus benefits. Then, ta-da! You’re ready to become a constable. In the first year the salary is $67,126, in the fifth year the average salary is $74,123. On top of their salaries, police officers have a superannuation scheme, insurance subsidy scheme and their physical competency tests are paid for – these benefits add up to $6,000+ a year.

Unlike many other trainees, police train on campus and live there too. According to the police website: “You may be expected to pay a small accommodation and/or meals fee while you’re training. You’ll be told before going to the college and these payments are deducted from your fortnightly salary.

“Police pay for transport to the RNZPC and this will be arranged with you just before you go to the college.”

Secondary school teacher trainees: $0 minus tuition fees /OR/ $12,500 /OR/ $43,381

Tertiary teaching programmes have practicums, or placements, where teachers-to-be are placed in schools. The amount of time differs depending on the programme, but during a three-year Bachelor of Education it will add up to 120 days. Practicums are unpaid and the teaching programmes have tuition fees. The three-year undergraduate course at the University of Auckland costs $6,778.80 a year, while the one-year graduate diploma is $8,524.50.

Teach First NZ allows people to train while earning a salary between $43,381 and $77,584, but has certain criteria. Other programmes allow people to train without fees while being placed at schools and receiving a $12,500 stipend.

Trained secondary teachers’ salaries start at $57,000. Every three years teachers must pay a $464.37 fee to renew their practising certificate. 

Trainee nurses: $0 minus tuition fees

For each of their three years studying, nursing students have to work for two months in clinics and hospitals. It’s over 1,000 hours of labour which goes unpaid, and can often be far from their homes, incurring travel and accommodation costs. The placements are demanding, so that people often can’t maintain other jobs on the side. Some suggest that’s at least part of the reason why a third don’t finish their training. Like teachers, they are paying tuition fees. At Otago, three years costs approximately $25,530

Once registered, nurses’ wages usually start at $74,000.

Nurses’ wages usually start at $74,000, but the training period can be very intense. (Photo: Getty)

Medical trainee interns: $26,756 minus tuition fees

Medical students spend their final (sixth) year as trainee interns largely in clinical settings, like hospitals and general practices. During this year they are paid the Medical Trainee Intern Grant which is $26,756 (GST exempt) for the 12 months. Trainees can only receive the grant once. Medical students pay tuition fees, which at the University of Auckland are about $17,383 a year.

While the final year is apprenticeship-style, at Otago University students have placements from the beginning of year 4. There’s no set number of hours, but they tend to occur in blocks of 4-6 weeks and are unpaid.

After graduation, doctors have two years of supervised practice in hospitals or community practices (PGY1 and 2) before they can get their general registration. Typically they’ll earn between $70,000 and $85,000. Most would then train further (while paid) in a specialty for 3-5 years.

Electrician or hairdressing apprentices: $18.16 an hour

The training minimum wage for apprentices is $18.16 an hour, 80% of minimum wage ($22.70) to allow the business to invest in training their employees. As a 40-hour per week wage, it would be about $38,000 a year.

This wage applies to people earning 60 credits a year in an industry training programme alongside their employment. For example, an electrical apprentice learns electrical theory on campus at day or night classes as well as being placed in a company. Apprenticeships can also be done in the building, hairdressing, barbering, agriculture, horticulture, tourism and fitness industries. 

DoC trainee ranger: $23.65 an hour

There’s a lot of competition for one of the country’s quintessential jobs: being a DoC ranger. Each year there’s a limited number of trainee ranger vacancies (though none currently, sorry). The starting pay is $23.65 an hour ($49,192 full-time equivalent salary) and the contracts are for two years. Uniforms and PPE required for the roles are all provided by DoC.

DoC ranger Darren Page holds a rare white kiwi chick, June 2011.

Iain Rayner, DoC’s Capability Development Advisor, says you’d need suitable experience or qualifications for the role. One way of gaining them is through a Certificate in Conservation (Operations). The Trainee Ranger Kaitiaki Whenua course at Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology is a full-time, one-year programme which costs $5,613 plus $222 Student Services Levy.

Trainee dentists: $0 minus tuition fees ($17,389)

Dentistry is only taught at Otago. Students in the program provide patient care under direct supervision from their third year (out of five). The fifth year focuses on clinical experience. Students don’t get paid to provide dental treatment; rather the students provide treatment as part of their studies, which costs domestic students $17,389 a year.

Once they graduate and get their  $1,233 annual practising certificate, they are ready to work. Dentists can earn $129,000 to $254,000 a year.

Trainee truck driver: $21.50 an hour

To be a truck driver, you need a licence for the size and type of truck you’ll be driving, which will fall under heavy licence classes 2, 3, 4 or 5. There are many approved course providers, but drivers can also learn through the Te ara ki tua Road to success Driver Traineeship.

The minimum hourly wage for the truck driving traineeship is $21.50. (Photo: Getty)

Over one or two years, they are employed by a transport business and progress their licence class from 2 to 5. The minimum hourly wage for this traineeship is $21.50; at 40 hours a week this would equate to a $44,720 salary. The pay increases as the drivers gain their licences. 

Skilled heavy truck drivers can earn $45 an hour (full-time equivalent $93,600).

Optometrists: $0 minus tuition fees ($9,891.60)

In the final (fifth) year of their studies, optometry students are expected to undertake 200 hours of clinical experience as part of their degree. Fees at the University of Auckland, which runs the only Bachelor of Optometry degree in New Zealand, are $9,891.60 a year for domestic students. The university also advises students to allow about $13,000 over the five years of study for additional costs like purchasing texts, essential equipment and travelling to off-site practicum locations.

Wages for optometrists vary: they usually start at $65,000 and can rise to $225,000 with experience. When they’re practising in the workforce, optometrists have annual registration and practising certificate fees, which range between $365 and $1,199.

Vets: $0 minus tuition fees

Jenny Weston, the dean of veterinary education at Massey University, says there’s a focus on work-integrated learning. Students in the Bachelor of Veterinary Science are required to have 40 hours working with animals under their belt before they fully embark on their degrees. Then, in the second and third years, they must complete 14 weeks of work experience with animals and in clinics outside of semester time (in other words, during uni holidays).

Much of that will be unpaid, says Weston, because often the students are not exactly essential employees – they are usually surplus to what the employer requires. Some may be paid, but “not brilliantly”. 

woman holding dog
Student vets need to have hands-on time with animals. (Photo: Getty)

In the third and fourth years, students spend six weeks on placements working with both farm and companion animals. The final (fifth) year is a longer academic year and students complete 38 weeks of clinical rotations. Some are rostered by the university and others are found by the students. Tuition fees are about $10,600 for the first year, and $13,600 for the following years.

Once they graduate and register for $361, students can work as vets and usually earn $75,000 to $105,000. There is also an annual practising certificate fee of $559.

Did you get paid to train on the job? Or did training cost you in your industry? Let us know at

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