In 2015, RTOs were challenged by an inadequate and volatile regulatory framework and a dysfunctional VET market and during 2016, they will continue to have an unprecedented effect.
In Australia, more than 80% of the VET market is government funded, therefore, training demand is conditional on government-funded programs. But throughout these programs, the government is generally buying training seats and not training outcomes. Consequently, some training providers are selling training seats (physical or virtual seats) but not necessarily quality training services. This produces an uneven playing field in the market that generates economic pressure on those committed to quality training services.
Our regulatory framework is giving the national regulator, ASQA, the responsibility to perform a task that it is not fit for: “regulating the outcomes of training”.
Let’s start from the beginning. What are the outcomes of training?
For industry, the outcomes of training are about the currency, relevance and applicability of skills and knowledge gained by students, and the effect of using those skills. How can ASQA regulate or measure these outcomes? Does ASQA have the industry expertise and resources to do so?
For individuals, the outcomes of training are about using training products that will equip them with current, relevant and useful skills and knowledge to get a job, or successfully engage in further studies. Is ASQA looking at those outcomes?
ASQA continues to use a procedural-based regulatory approach, which is heavy in paper work and not an outcome-based approach. In fairness to the national regulator, the Standards for RTOs 2015, are still in many respects procedural-based, and not outcome-based as it was sold last year. For example, RTOs are required to have and implement a very prescriptive validation plan. But the RTO may have developed and implemented a “compliant” validation plan, generating records that are assessed as compliant by ASQA; however, validated assessment practices may not meet the principles of assessment. Another example is about industry engagement, RTOs are required to have a very prescriptive (in content) range of industry engagement strategies to design and improve a training product, but there are no requirements to measure the extent to which those “industry needs” are met.
Negative training results, especially but not limited to government funded training, have added extra pressure into ASQA’s regulatory work. The regulator has responded by applying stronger consequences for those found non-compliant with the standards during audits, including the use of infringement notices.
RTOs must monitor compliance closely, establishing quality systems, and using quality control and assurance measures to avoid fines, sanctions, or other negative consequences. RTO managers must establish a “compliance dashboard” where evidence in real time is analysed and acted upon to ensure compliance at all times.
Areas for high priority. Having conducted more than 100 internal audits for RTOs this year alone, for Insources, we conclude that the top three areas of non-compliance were:
- Assessment practices
- Trainers and assessors’ vocational competencies and industry currency, and
- Amount of training provided.