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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?

Not surprisingly, the development of auditing accompanied the development of accounting, and the rst recorded auditors were the spies of King Darius of ancient Persia around 2500 years ago. Modern auditing began in 1844 when the British Parliament passed the Joint Stock Companies Act, which for the first time required that corporate directors report to share-holders via an audited financial statement, the balance sheet. And so the process goes and has evolved from there. The sad fact remains though that in many organisations, auditors as still viewed as there were in ancient Persia, spies and those who cannot be trusted. The truth of it is that audits should be a positive experience for an organisation, providing an update on how the organisation is running and whether additional training needs to be undertaken and providing management with key indicators to be able to make decisions in the best interest of the business. 
Unfortunately, audits can also be used to scare monger, blame and create fear in an organisation. If you are hoping to develop a culture of continuous improvement and lifelong learning, audits done well can be an integral part of that process, here's how to do it:
1. Communicate in advance and communicate for the listenerImage result for poor communication
Auditors tend to be C style profiles (Check out DISC for more information), Conscientious profiles tend to be very confident and thorough in their communication, however can also be seen by others judgemental, perfectionists or even pedantic in their communication. As such, for Ds and Is (Dominant (think big boss, direct) or Influencers (think extrovert, sales guys)) may struggle with this communication style and cease communication. This will be hard to hear for the high Cs but there is no point in being right if you aren't being heard, so prepare and be able to provide short concise notes with further follow up information for reference for staff when you are starting or opening the meeting and throughout the process. Also, try to temper language so that you come across as much as possible as personable and approachable. Audits run in defensive mode are rarely as productive as they could be. If you are the auditee dealing with a difficult auditor, take the time to figure out how they communicate and adjust your style to theirs to build communication from your end. 
2. No pre-conceptions. 
This is so key to a successful audit, if you are going in with the premise of 'finding something' or 'confirming suspicions' then the whole process is doomed. This is actually one of the first premises of the ASQA Auditor Code of Practice. The Code states that auditors will "behave in a fair manner and without favouritism, patronage or prejudice and ensure their personal beliefs or opinions do not influence their findings."
Now all auditors are human (yes, I promise they are) and therefore prone to err on occasion. However, the intent is absolutely key and there are a few good reasons. Firstly, if you are intent on finding something, you will find it, whether it is there or not. Secondly, most people are poor at hiding their intentions and most people being audited will assume that the auditor is out to get them. This is so counterproductive to building trust, communication and education, which should be the intent of an internal audit and is integral to procedural fairness and integrity. If you do feel you are being unfairly targeted and you disagree with the auditors findings, have the discussion, ask what the standard is they are auditing, what is the evidence and how they have arrived at their finding, where is the gap. Often many non-compliances can be addressed then and there once both parties understand where the gap is. 
3. Recognise the difference between standards and expectations
This one is a personal bug bear of mine, there is a set of standards, dictated by the regulator and set in legislation. Then there is a set of expectations or interpretations in how they can be applied to varying degrees, these are personal benchmarks or expectations. As an example, RTOs issue first aid, the Statement of Attainment is actually valid forever according to the standards, however, its an industry expectation that the unit is renewed every xxx years. Similarly, there is a standard that RTOs identify and deliver an appropriate amount of training to meet the learners needs, there is an expectation that for Certificate III learners will need 12 months or 1200 hours to achieve this. When undertaking audits, auditors need to separately address the standards (what is an absolute must) and expectations (how standards have been interpreted previously and can be addressed). If you are the auditee, ensure that you are asking questions to identify what the standard is and what the gap is where non-compliances are deemed. Be familiar with the exact language of the standards and have clear and concise explanations for how you have addressed it backed up with evidence. 
4. Check in regularly
Whether you are the auditor or auditee, regular communication is a must for shared understanding, so organise regular check ins like small closing meetings at the end of each day and at least one check in around or just after lunch/before lunch. 
5. Follow a clear and transparent process
Finally, just as good and fair assessment relies on transparency, so does a good audit process. This is why ASQA and most auditors will start any audit process with an opening meeting to discuss the rules, process and general flow that the audit will take.  Auditees need to understand how they can provide evidence in and around timeframes, why non-compliances may be reported and the consequences of such. Additionally, good audit processes provide for opportunities to respond or clarify perceived non-compliances.  
Overall, the above means that all parties understand the process and are clear on the goal, where there is a difference, the parties can communicate to arrive at a resolution if not agreement. It's not always an easy balance to strike, but finding the balance can reap huge benefits for organisations resulting in a supportive environment where staff learn together and management can be confident in their ability to self regulate.
Good luck, go forth and audit well.