Developing a systematic approach to professional development in RTOs

A few weeks ago I was watching an ASQA webinar about one of their strategic reviews.  ASQA presenters mentioned a broad reaching  recommendation regarding professional development that grabbed my attention. Here it is.

RTOs enhance their ongoing professional development by:

  • providing advice on relevant professional development for trainers and assessors, and
  • investigating more systematic models that will assist trainers and assessors to demonstrate compliance.’

(Early Childhood Education and Care webinar, 6 October 2016 – ASQA and SkillsIQ)


I thought this topic would be a great follow on from our last blog post on learning organisations and regulatory changes in the VET sector. Why? Because building a culture of effective professional development is one of the first steps towards becoming a learning organisation.

You will note that the ASQA recommendation refers only to trainers and assessors in an RTO. This is in line with the Standards for RTOs 2015.  But we at The Learning Community would argue that it is not possible to achieve a true learning organisation if professional development is provided for only one group of staff.  Effective professional learning and development needs to be part of a systematic approach to organisational development that enable all individuals and teams to work together to achieve the RTO’s mission and goals. Once again, we urge RTO owners and managers to think first about what’s best for the business. Compliance will follow!

Consider your current approach to professional development.

Can you improve on your current system? Do you have a system or do you put the onus on staff to stay current? I will present what we have observed in RTOs and what is required in terms of professional development for learning organisations. Finally I will give you some ideas about establishing a systematic approach to professional development that will be good for your business and for compliance.

Professional Development Requirements for Trainers and Assessors

Your trainers and assessors must have:

  • the vocational competencies at least to the level being delivered and assessed,
  • current industry skills directly relevant to the training and assessment being provided, and
  • current knowledge and skills in vocational training and learning that informs their training and assessment.’

Visit the ASQA Fact Sheet here.

Trainer and Assessor Needs

This requirement means that your trainers and assessment must keep up to date with training and assessment methodologies such as assessment writing, delivery methods etc. They must also keep up to date in their own profession. We would argue that those who teach can only maintain their effectiveness if they are passionate about learning and keep on learning. So in reality the professional development issue should not be a problem, it should just happen. Unfortunately this is not so. The professional development requirement is often a headache for both trainers and RTO managers.

Here is what we see happening in RTOs:

  • battles between management and trainers about who should pay for professional development,
  • the perception that trainers and assessors who are employed on contract are not really part of the organisation and so should not be supported,
  • constant struggles between trainers and management to find suitable and relevant professional development,
  • struggles within the RTO to keep up to date with records of professional development,
  • trainers and assessors attending professional development that does not help their practice

Are you Meeting the Professional Development needs of all of your trainers/assessors?

Are you providing sufficient support for your trainers and assessors? How do you align the needs of your trainers with the needs of your organisation when planning professional development?

Professional Development for Other RTO Staff

Professional staff in RTOs fall into a number of staffing categories from managers and leaders, finance, facilities management, learning and resource development, trainer and student support, customer service, administrative, general IT and e learning professionals and the list goes on..

What professional development is required for these different staff groups? What are you doing about professional development for your professional staff? There are no formal requirements according to the Standards. Or are there? Let’s take a closer look at the Standards, specifically Standards 7 and 8.

Executive Offices/High Managerial Agents

Clause 7.1 specifies that the RTO must ensure that ‘its executive officers or high managerial agent: are vested with sufficient authority to ensure the RTO complies with the RTO Standards at all times…..

The Guide to the Standards goes on to say that ‘To operate effectively, managers must have authority to ensure that their RTO complies with the Standards at all times. If your RTO is part of a larger organisation, it is particularly important that the people actually managing the RTO are able to make decisions that ensure compliance.

Standard 8 specifies that the ‘RTO cooperates with the VET Regulator and is legally compliant at all times.

Although the words professional development are not specified above, surely they must be implied for both the RTO managers and for their staff.  As you well know, keeping up to date with all the legislation that applies to your RTO is challenging, as is the management of a team of people who run the RTO. Surely ongoing professional development is essential if those Managerial Agents are to ensure that the RTO is compliant at all times. It is certainly essential for a learning organisation that is working towards business success and compliance! Once again, we often find that this is not the case in many RTOs.

Here is what we often see happening in RTOs:

  • A leadership model where an owner or senior leader makes most of decisions and overlooks the need to invest in people
  • Staff silos within RTOs that prevent whole team planning and development
  • A focus of professional development on the training and assessment staff because of the compliance requirements at the exclusion of other staff in the RTO
  • A great deal of churn i.e. high turnover of professional staff
  • Poor understanding of career paths for professional staff resulting in the provision of poor quality development options
  • Lack of HR practices to promote staff and team performance.

 Are you Meeting Professional Staff Needs?

How can the professional learning needs of such a diverse range of staff be catered for in an RTO environment? Are your professional staff enthusiastic about their roles and engaged in the business? Can professional development be designed to ensure that the whole RTO is learning and improving?

Read on for some ideas to help you meet these diverse development needs.

Establishing a Systematic Approach to Professional Development

Professional development should not be a standalone or random activity; it should be a part of a whole-of-RTO development strategy that is clearly linked to the mission and future direction of the organisation.

Time for Self Assessment

Ask yourself the questions listed below:

  1. Is there a strong sense of mission and common values across the whole of your RTO?
  2. Does your RTO take a whole-of-RTO approach to strategy development and planning?
  3. Is there an interdisciplinary team approach to achieving the mission and goals?
  4. Is there a performance appraisal system that aligns with the plans and goals of the organisation and provides focus for planning professional development?
  5. Are you using effective consultation methods to understand the learning needs of your organisation and its people?
  6. Do you ensure that the performance objectives of the individual align with the RTO’s strategic direction and values?
  7. Are professional development activities provided to assist all individuals in achieving their goals?
  8. Are you actively evaluating the effectiveness of professional development activities from an individual and team perspective?
  9. Do you seek and give constructive feedback as part of performance processes?

If you answered no to any of the questions above then perhaps those areas are a place to start to build a proactive and effective professional development strategy. Below are some further suggestions.

What can you do to improve?

  1. Develop and implement a performance appraisal system in your RTO for all staff that aligns with your mission, values and goals.
  2. Assign a staff member (or a small team of staff) to research, plan and organise professional development options. This might include a range of short and longer training courses and ideally include cross RTO staff development initiatives to help share the learning and break down organisational silos.
  3. Use a range of methods to determine professional development needs. For example, use a needs analysis survey, focus groups, or a nominal group technique to facilitate both divergent and convergent thinking processes and,
  4. Use surveys or questionnaires to canvas staff morale both before and after development activities so you can measure the impact of your initiatives and contribute to continuous improvement.

 Ask The Learning Community for Help

We have a range of products and services that can help you with this. We can help you develop and implement an effective performance management system, a systematic approach to professional development and a system to help you track the professional development activities of your staff. Of course we can also help you with your staff training needs.

If you would like help contact us on and we can chat about the best solutions for you and your Registered Training Organisation or visit our products page for lots of helpful resources.

Thanks for joining us

Gillian Heard Polaroid2


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