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Our Peer Support


The Vision

WomenCAN Australia is immensely proud of its unique peer support initiative, The Placement Circle, which is based on more than 40 years of research. 

The Placement Circle is women striding the path to financial independence side by side. 

Women meet twice each month – a study group session and a peer support discussion. 

The program, a defining feature of our work, differentiates WomenCAN Australia.  

The research shows women need three things to get back into the workforce: 

  • To reskill for free through registered training organisations close to home and aligned to the local job market. 

  • Jobs that are safe and properly paid. 

  • To support and be supported by women in their community with shared lived experience.  


Through The Placement Circle, WomenCAN Australia delivers at each of these three levels.  


Courses in Electrical, Carpentry, Plumbing and Aged Care are running at campuses across greater Victoria. 


The Why

Peer Supported Training and Why it Works


For many years, increasing student engagement and course completion has been a challenge for both training organisations and host employers alike.
Students and Trainees are often very excited at the commencement of their training, however, without the right framework and supports their motivation can easily decrea
se with many students dropping out within a few months.

So what is the answer?
Students who undertake a placement based traineeship or study a Certificate with their local training provider are more likely to remain engaged and complete their qualifications with Peer Support.

What is Peer Support?
Peer support is when people give or receive support based on shared experiences.
For example, a group of peers may share the same culture, age, gender, location or i
Peer-to-peer learning also enables knowledge sharing among participants in a comfortable setting. For example, in a classroom, rather than students preparing a
nd delivering a presentation in class, sharing knowledge among peers is less intimidating. There is a willingness to make mistakes and learn from them from this collaborative setting.
Peer support provides benefits through empathy, acceptance, and skill-sharing that comes from dealing with similar lived experiences.   

Here are five benefits of undertaking training with Peer Support:

  1. It creates a safe environment to learn

    • ​​A peer support group fosters a safe learning environment for participants.

    • It is like the old saying “safety in numbers”. When you are a member of a group of people who share a commonality, it provides a feeling of belonging and security.

  2. Provides support and encouragement

    • Peers provide support and encouragement to other students, particularly where the commonality is culture or language.

    • When completing a task or assignment, students can discuss the requirements or answers in their own language or relate it to their own culture, traditions or situation.

    • When studying or on placement, having the peer support of another student is very beneficial and prevents individual students from feeling isolated.

  3. Improved attendance and completion

    • Students are more likely to attend and keep attending in a peer supported training program.

    • The social interaction that students in a peer supported training program enjoy is an important factor that contributes to improved attendance.

    • The encouragement from peers is also great way to keep students engaged and working towards the completion of their study.

  4. Students enjoy a higher level of self-efficacy.

    • Students who feel a sense of belonging in an educational environment are more engaged in classroom activities, are more motivated and report a greater sense of academic self-efficacy.

  5. Opportunities for social connection and friendship.

    • Peer support groups are a great opportunity for social connection and a way to make friends.

    • Being brought together to study a particular topic is the catalyst to uncovering
      other shared interests and similarities. Many students who study together
      become life long friends, or work colleagues.


The Placement Circle facilitated by WomenCAN Australia

WomenCAN Australia is a registered charity who helps women reskill, and rebuild their confidence, connections, and work capability. In turn, this enables women to re-engage with the workforce and develop their financial independence.

Their program, The Placement Circle (TPC), provides a peer supported transition to vocational training and onto employment for women who have disconnected from the workforce.

Women are supported to reskill, and rebuild their confidence, connections, and work capability. In turn, this enables women to re-engage with the workforce and develop their financial independence.

By working together with a structured peer-supported community of women who have a shared lived experience, the possibility of re-educating, finding sustainable employment and rebuilding confidence becomes much more likely.


What makes The Placement Circle unique?

The Placement Circle program is unique as it is not available to men – this is a program only offered to people who identify as women. 


In addition, having the support of your peers, other women who are finding their wayback into paid employment, provides a sense of belonging.


Together, the team at WomenCAN Australia help participants rebuild their confidence and make new friends. The program creates a sense of connection and belonging.


The support provided by The Placement Circle is at no cost to participating women.

The How

WomenCAN Australia & Peer Support

Evidence + Research + Care = Success

WomenCAN Australia’s peer-support program, The Placement Circle (TPC), is based on more than 40 years of research.


The research which has emerged from the deinstitutionalisation of the mental-health sector, driven by the global human rights movement.

It shows that women need three things to get back into the workforce:

  • To reskill for free through registered training organisations close to home and aligned to the local employment market.

  • Safe and properly paid jobs.

  • To be supported by women in their community with shared lived experience.


Advocates and academics including Shery Mead have taken a leading role in the development of peer support as a successful training and employment intervention, producing a hefty work exploring the evidence-based benefits: Intentional Peer Support: An Alternative Approach (2014).  This was developed in the UK by McEnhill et al: The Work Foundation: Part of Lancaster University Disability Rights, (May 2016).

TPC draws on these and the many other thinkers who have established peer support as an effective part of returning to the workforce.

Peer support has key elements:

  • Our staff act as non-peer mentors and facilitators, as women support each other as they acquire skills and education.

  • The participating women take responsibility for their own practices, support their peers, and take on leadership roles.


Part of the academic research informing peer-support programs was Learning by Doing, a guide to Teaching and Learning Methods (Gibbs G, 2013, Further Educational Unit, Oxford Polytechnic, Oxford.)

The international body of work gives us epistemological frameworks and, crucially, practical ways to provide the right conditions for success.

Such knowledge has extended into an increasing range of workplaces and led exploration into good work practices for general populations.

TPC is buttressed by evidence of what works, and by an understanding of why it works.

We understand that individuals learn in a variety of ways and have different work and study experiences, hence the mixed offering in peer support.

Many of our trainees have been carers for their children and other family members for many years and have not participated in formal formal education beyond school or employment.

Others are not long out of school. Still others are making mid-career changes.

Our mixed peer-support strategy has been developed to assist the trainees successfully complete the course and get a job.


The first element is completion of an Initial Needs Assessment (Identification). From that point, trainees with assistance of staff chart their journey, and gain knowledge about the various available supports.

WomenCAN Australia always seeks to evaluate how well the Placement Circle is working and iteratively improve it. We learn from what works best and then do more of it, using our experience to leverage the research.


Program elements and operation

TPC staff are trained by WomenCAN Australia and receive their own ongoing support.

Such training helps maximise the program’s benefit, underpin confidence in staff and participants, and maintain consistency and quality. Our staff have been selected for their strong, sophisticated communication skills.


1/ Initial Needs Assessment:

  • Creates a conversation in which the women talk about their aims and potential barriers, and consider the overall supports and resources they might have available as they undertake their training and employment program.

  • Provides them with contacts they may need to manage barriers.

  • Builds trusts and establishes a relationship.

  • Sets the scene for the upcoming program, creating comfort to build relationships and gain confidence.

  • Initiates collaboration and demonstrates others are there to walk alongside on the journey to independence.

  • Sets up mutual and group benefits.

  • Helps shape a vision of a fulfilling, financially independent future.

  • Offers individual mentoring as part of building trust and confidence to take on leadership roles if desired.


2/ Monthly online meetings:


  • Held online; two hours. All trainees on work duty are expected to be released to attend.

  • Will engage trainees who have been accepted into the program but have yet to be either employed or start the course with the relevant Registered Training Organisation. This sets up mixed skill sets and opportunities for wider experience and knowledge.

  • The agenda is constructed from discussions with trainees and staff from local settings.

  • Contain a learning element, with formal presentations on relevant or requested topics.

  • Support students to present an event that occurred in a workplace using the reflective cycle set out a decade ago by Gibbs in Learning by Doing, a guide to Teaching and Learning Methods.

  • Review learning challenges and successes and encourage structured thinking about solutions.


3/ Monthly workplace meetings:

  • Conducted by WCA staff for trainees at local sites, using enquiry as a strategy.

  • Identify successes, as well as trainees’ learning and practical support needs.

  • Diagnose issues - using an action learning method - and intervene where a placement is not successful.

  • Develop and cultivate solid relationships with RTOs and group trainers.


4/ Diaries:

  • The Initial Needs Assessment establishes the value – as part of the process and for future reference - to trainees of them using a diary to record their goals, progress, and reflections during the program.

  • This is an effective way to record issues and nourish discussions and progress.

  • This is also of great benefit to the use in our peer support of Gibbs’ reflective practice, which involves individual trainees leading discussions or events in a monthly meeting.


5/ Study groups:

  • Support the development of group problem-solving and of knowledge on specific topics.

  • Online or site specific.

  • Build group connection.

  • Focus on the future.


6/ Leadership skills:

  • Model inclusive behaviour, facilitating pathways out of difficult situations, providing a navigator function.

  • Use the Mead tasks, set out in Intentional Peer Support: An Alternative Approach:

    • Connection with other peers providing introductions.

    • Exploring Worldview to assist the individual understand how we come to know what we know.

    • Mutuality - building trust in the peer group, redefining help as a co-learning and growing process.

    • Moving Toward - facilitating the individual to focus on what she wants, and looking at strategies to get there rather than moving away from what she doesn’t want.

  • Facilitated conversations focussing on ability rather inability, and on future-focussed, evidence-based approaches for the trainees in their work roles.


7/ Preparation for employment:

  • Mock interviews for applying for positions.

  • Supporting Trainees for employment interviews, including personal grooming.

  • Advice on creating a CV.


8/ WhatsApp:

  • WhatsApp is included in the package of peer support options for trainees and ancillary staff participating In Women Can Australia Programs (WCA).

  • We use WhatsApp to build connections between the trainees, encourage mutual support, and to establish and build trust.

  • The aim is to provide a personalised, informal setting to assist participants in their studies share how they have managed barriers. The group is designed to be peer-led, with general oversight by staff peer workers.

  • Sets the scene for independent learning.  

  • Initially the WhatsApp contacts may be as simple as lift-sharing or shift changes, however the target is to ask the trainees to use their diaries to identify issues that they may need assistance with and start conversations on WhatsApp. Peer-support staff monitor online chats to ensure the safety of trainees.

  • Trainees are encouraged to connect online with other trainees not located in their local area, and to particularly consider others who may be lone workers.

  • We keep the focus on activities that advance the group, with a focus on educational experiences and practical successes and challenges.

  • WhatsApp is used for the transfer of information between staff and trainees.

  • It also supports the formal study components of the course through the sharing of tips and experiences, including on subject content and assignments.

  • The group nurtures optimism, and provides opportunity for all trainees to contribute to meetings.

  • Keep trainees and peer support workers connected and informed.

  • A useful website for the trainees is WhatsApp scams to look for.  A number of scams are listed and provides access to other sites.


9/ Four-day employment skill-development:

  • Assists the trainee in reviewing their goal setting capacity.

  • Builds an understanding of communication styles and their impact on their work experience.

  • Reviews and plan workplace and team operating styles.

  • Reviews learning styles.

The Evidence

A formal academic evaluation of the pilot of WomenCAN Australia's unique peer support program, The Placement Circle, was conducted by Dr. Lisa Hodge, Emeritus Professor Anne Jones, Angela M. Paredes Castro, Dr. Romana Morda and Dr. Jill Bamforth of the Institute for Health and Sport at Victoria University's College of Health and Biomedicine.

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