This article was first published in VET Express  

Lauren Hollows is the founder and CEO of Understand TAE, an emerging company offering innovative advice and a growing range of simple-to-use tools designed to help RTOs develop their internal capacity. Having run RTOs from senior management positions for the better part of a decade, Lauren now uses her extensive knowledge and experience to deliver professional consultation and training to RTOs looking to develop their internal capacity — both from a regulatory and training view. We spoke to Lauren about what it takes to produce first-rate trainers in the VET industry in 2017.

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You have one trainer on annual leave and another has just called in sick and will be off for a few days. What do you do? Well, most RTOs will call on their contract trainers to step up to the plate and take some additional classes. For the contract trainer, there is a freedom of being able to set your own schedules and hedge your bets working across a range of RTOs. But there are also lots of questions, this article answers three big questions: how can trainers be paid, contract issues and how to manage trainer competency and currency.

How should trainers be paid?

There are a few methods which contract trainers work including hourly rates, day rates and by the unit. RTOs and trainers need to work out what's right for them however, a little advice based on experience.

  • Pay per unit- this is by far my least favourite method as it encourages tick and flick behaviour on both sides and it can become problematic when the students present with additional needs or are unable to demonstrate competency. If you are going to agree to this method, I would strongly suggest discussing these points before agreeing to this method.
  • Hourly rates- This method can work well on both sides and is great for straight forward training and assessment, where it can get sticky is around the more administrative tasks such as after class marking, undertaking validations and participating in training, professional development, etc. Generally, I have found it works well to agree to two rates one for training and assessment and another for administrative tasks, with an agreement that there participation and provision of both by and for both parties.
  • Day rates- This method caters better for the provision of actual training before assessment. However, again, a few points to talk about would include minimum and maximum hours, for the RTO you don't want to pay a date rate for someone to train 9:30-2:30 and for the trainer you don't want to be paid a day rate to run a class from 8-4 and 5-9, unless you are getting a bloody good day rate! Also, the points above for the provision of administrative duties need to be considered and factored into the contract.


Are contract trainers third parties that need to be referred to ASQA or noted in my state funding contract?

Short answer - No. ASQA has kindly explicitly addressed this on their website. "No, a contract of employment between an RTO and its employee is not a third party arrangement." However, a word of caution, if you are working with an organisation who is supplying you with trainers, that IS a third party agreement, the contract has to be directly with the trainer to be a contract of employment. Additionally, if a trainer is deriving all or the majority of their income from one organisation, then you need to be aware of your IR/HR requirements. For more information about this check with Fairwork.

How can we manage and who is responsible for professional development?

The biggest problem I speak about with both contract trainers and RTOs is who is responsible for managing the trainer currency and competency to meet Standard 1.13-1.16. Again, ASQA has been pretty clear on this. "Your RTO must demonstrate that you have developed and implemented a plan for professional development for ALL trainers and assessors (including new employees, long-term staff, subcontractors and third-party providers)." So the question isn't who is responsible but how this responsibility is managed. The below is more advice based on what I have seen work, rather than gospel or law and should be taken as such, there are many ways to make it work, but at the end of the day the Standards are what dictate what is required.

  • Trainer Matrix, Trainer File (including validated copies of all qualifications, CV, etc.) and Professional Development Plan- These are just a few docs that RTOs will generally have on file to evidence Standard 1.13-1.16. A lot of contract trainers get frustrated having to provide this information differently for every RTO under the guide of “ASQA requires…”, there is no requirement to provide these in a specific format, the ASQA requirement is to provide evidence in line with the Standards. As part of the initial agreement, I would recommend setting aside 3-4 hours to develop these documents, which is paid at an agreed rate, once the RTO is paying for the trainers time, it can dictate that things need to be done according to RTO policy and procedure (as long as that doesn’t contradict the Standards).
  • Participating in industry competency and professional development- Just like a full time employed trainer and assessor, contract trainer and assessors have to maintain their industry currency and the RTO has to have a plan for how they will manage this. A lot of RTOs will put the onus back on the contractor. The best resolution I have seen for this is an agreed pro-rata, blended with in house support. If the RTO can run in house development for groups, all trainers should be given the opportunity to participate. For paid professional development and up skilling of qualifications need to be pre-agreed to. If the organisation provides $1000 per year for full time trainers, then a contract trainer working an average of a day a week gets an allowance of up to $200, based on prior agreement and approval by the RTO. Regardless of what amount gets paid and how, this needs to be discussed, agreed to and put into writing so that both sides are clear on their responsibilities and the RTO can ensure that they are meeting the standards.

In summary, the more you can discuss and put to writing before you commence, the easier both sides will find it to come to a happy, healthy arrangement. Remember that trainers set the front facing standard of quality for any RTO, they are an investment, so invest and help them grow. As Simon Sinek puts it "When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute." Invest in your trainers and they will invest in you and more importantly, your students.

For more advice on managing your RTO, check out our website and for an innovative new solution for managing trainer competency and currency or your own professional development coming soon contact us today with the subject What is TMS?

So yes, it's a controversial title, but many say that listening is fast becoming a lost art and this is especially true for leaders. We have more ways to communicate than ever before in history, yet we have forgotten how to listen and its not a skill we teach often. We teach how to communicate, how to 'get your message out there', how to 'be heard' but not how to hear others. We have also developed a philosophy that managers/bosses/leaders should know everything and be the font of all knowledge. So if you know everything, what's the point of listening at all?

I believe the Dalai Lama said it best "When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” The benefits of really listening to staff, colleagues are clients happen on so many fronts from early detection of problems to building trust and respect and increasing employee intrinsic motivation and loyalty. So its only when we stop talking, that we can really start to build our relationships with others.

Listening is a lot more than waiting for the other person to stop talking, it's about paying attention and learning to silence your inner voice so you can listen to theirs. Listening can be hard work at times, silencing our inner dialogue can be challenging, I'm not an expert but I have to work at it, it's especially challenging when you can't be physically present with the person and in today's world of skyping and teleconferencing its even more difficult. So here are three simple tips for learning to be a more effective listener, if you can do even one of these all the time you will see your relationships blossom.

Devices away.... Face to face meetings mean that phones are a no no. You cannot be focused on a conversation if you are waiting for a better option to come along, which is what your phone out means. If you have an absolute must urgent call, set a unique ring tone, preface the meeting as to the need for the call and put the phone in your bag or away. If you are using the phone for a teleconference or skype then use it simply for that, resist the urge to minimise the screen and continue on with other work. "When we break eye contact to check our phones we degrade trust. Let’s keep our phones away from meals & meetings." Simon Sinek is a great promoter of phone detox to reinvigorate communication in business and at home. Try putting the phone away for an hour and see how your communication improves.

Be present... Just a phone is a great distractor, our internal dialogue often presents a major barrier for active listening. Silencing your inner dialogue takes active practice often. I find that meditation is the best way to practice this regularly and a good way to warm into mindful practice when listening to others and it can actually change the chemistry of your brain (check out this great Forbes article). If you do want to dive straight in, imagine with every conversation that you will have to repeat the content to someone else. Allow your mind to create a mental model of the information being communicated. Whether a literal picture, or an arrangement of abstract concepts, your brain will do the necessary work if you stay focused, with senses fully alert. This is where listening differs from waiting your turn to speak. Listen with an intent to understand, rather than listening with an intent to reply.

Reflecting and paraphrasing for understanding... Even when we do practice being present and active listening, it's no guarantee we will get the message right so using questioning, reflecting, paraphrasing and summarising can help you to ensure that the message you received is correct. As with most things it's the execution of this that counts, so making sure that you do this tackfully is key. Try not to speak over the person when you clarify, give them time to finish and where possible allow for a pause. Introduce the clarification clearly, "So what I am hearing is..." "So if I understand what you are saying correctly, you mean/feel/think..." etc. Also try to mirror the language, if the speak has focused on thinking and facts, then don't reflect on that with feelings and hopes, keep to the same medium.

Plenty of people are great speakers, but few are good listeners. If you develop the latter skill, you will find yourself invited into amazing conversations that wouldn’t otherwise happen, you might learn something new and you may find those deep and meaningful connections that come with feeling acknowledged. So shut up... and maybe they'll love you... more.