Building Capacity is Being Prepared For What Lies Ahead

How do you go about building capability in your RTO in the midst of so much change in the VET sector?  Our social media focus over the next 5 weeks will be on building capability. So, we thought we would kick it off with a blog post to outline our thinking on the topic.

If you follow our blogs and if you have read our book ‘The Essential Guide to RTO Compliance’ you will know that we encourage all RTO managers to operate with a proactive and ‘good for business’ approach.

‘As an RTO owner or manager you must be able to demonstrate significant and ongoing commitment to the operation of your business. ………. RTO management must establish an effective governance, risk and compliance system that enables the organisation to demonstrate commitment to provision of quality training and assessment. The systems must include clear management philosophy, systems, policies, and communication channels.’ (Heard and Sell, 2014)

But RTO management can only do this if they have the right team working with them and if that team is equipped for the task. In other words, building the capability of your team is the key to the success of the RTO. In fact,

‘people are the assets on which competitive advantage is built’ (Harris, Clayton and Chappell, NCVER Publication 2007).

If this is true, and we think it is, consider this … ‘when do people perform at their best?’

Most people will tell you that is when:

  • They feel supported
  • There is trust
  • They are confident in their role and
  • They know where they fit within the overall operation.

This blog will outline 5 key areas of focus that will help you to build capability across your RTO. These areas in summary are:

  1. Strategy – the importance of vision, goals and alignment
  2. Leadership – a focus on strategic priorities, the future and the people who enable it to be realised
  3. Teams – the importance of working effectively within the RTO, with strategic partners and with students
  4. Support Services – building effective ways of supporting students, staff and leaders
  5. Documentation – the practices that support effective policy and procedures, planning and marketing

Let’s look at these 5 focus areas in a little more detail.

1. Your Strategy

Build a vision and strategy that focuses on the future of your RTO and align the development goals of the staff with the goals of the organisation.

If this is already part of the way you operate, that’s great – keep revisiting your strategy and refining it to meet the challenges of the changing VET sector. If you haven’t got a clear vision and strategy in place and are relying on your past practices of offering a wide range of services, working hard to constantly improve practice and providing what you believe the clients want, then it may be time to stop and assess whether this is still working for you and will continue to produce successful outcomes into the future.

A sustainable and successful RTO must rethink and reshape their strategy to:

  • Ensure the RTO focuses on the right things that utilise their strengths and core capabilities
  • Predict the changing trends that will impact on the effectiveness of the RTO now and into the future
  • Adapt to the needs of the changing sector
  • Find opportunities for growth and sustainability
  • Establish a long term but flexible vision
  • Provide a framework for innovation and effective operational and strategic decision making
  • Ensure that all staff and other key stakeholders know and are committed to the strategic directions of the RTO.
So how can an RTO rethink the strategy process to ensure success?

The first step is to emphasize your strategic focus. Does your strategy clearly state that your RTO’s core business is: Teaching, Learning and Assessment? Whilst I’m sure there will be no debate about these core areas, many RTOs find themselves caught up in other issues that shift their attention away from the main reason why they exist.

Next you must check that the following five areas of your business are aligned with your strategic directions:


Do you have the right people, with the right skills, in the right jobs to implement the goals as planned? If not, you may need to recruit some staff to bring in missing skills to the team or embark on a process of training and development to equip existing staff with the skills and experience required by the strategic plan.

Effective leadership is also critical to strategy implementation; poor leadership is one of the main barriers to successful implementation. Leaders must be able to clearly communicate, delegate, coordinate action, and provide feedback and support. Leaders must ensure that staff have the information they need to do their jobs well.


The strategic plan must be written in the context of a budget with sufficient funds allocated to each of the goals. Time must also be allocated for completion of the goals. Consider whether the existing pattern of work will allow staff to focus on the strategic priorities outlined in the plan. Is there a need to reallocate work or restructure roles to enable staff time to focus on strategic goals? It is also critical to ensure that any materials or physical resources are available to support the plan.


Consider whether the organisational structure aligns with the strategy. Is there a need to restructure or redefine roles and teams? Ensure that there is a clear organisational structure and processes for decision making and accountability. Implement regular strategic reviews and communication meetings to ensure that progress is being monitored.


Consider whether the RTO has the technology and management systems in place to implement the goals and gather data to track progress. Make sure that policies and procedures align with the new strategy to enable work to flow in a way that supports the strategic directions.


The culture of the RTO will also impact on successful implementation. It is important to build a culture of information sharing to facilitate effective strategy implementation. It is also important that staff feel motivated toward implementing the strategic goals, so consider ways to encourage action and reflect on what types of behaviours are rewarded in the RTO?

How well does your RTO implement strategy?
  • Do you have a clear and defined strategy? Is there a current strategic intent document that informs staff about organisational direction and operations? If not, why not?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the organisation?
  • What are the opportunities and threats to the organisation?
  • Do you have the right people in the right jobs?
  • What do you need to do to provide a quality work environment for all staff?
  • Are you encouraging an environment to support innovation and foster individual responsibility and growth?
  • Are there resources available to support your strategic goals?
  • Does your current structure support the strategic directions you want to take?
  • Do you have the systems, policies and procedures you need?
  • Is there a culture of information sharing in the RTO?

Once you have worked through these questions, consider if there are areas that you could improve and set a plan for action.

2. Your leadership culture

How would people describe the culture of leadership across your RTO? Even if you have not intentionally built the culture, your organisation will have one.

Do you have a dependent leadership culture, where people believe that those in positions of authority are responsible for leadership? Or is it more like an Independent leadership culture, where people follow those with individual expertise? Or perhaps it is an Interdependent leadership culture, where people believe that leadership can be the mandate of everyone and think everyone, regardless of position, can contribute to the directions of the RTO.

Think about what type of leadership culture your RTO needs to support success. In our experience, we have found that in educational organisations a distributed leadership model is effective. This is a form of interdependent leadership and for it to be successful it requires a level of trust that enables all staff to take responsibility within their role, to take part in decision making across the organisation and be encouraged to provide feedback on all aspects of the RTO’s operations. Is this the type of culture you are fostering in your RTO?

To develop and sustain a culture like this your RTO should:
  • Be intentional about building practices that encourage shared decision making and input
  • Structure performance reviews and professional development activities to encourage and reward these types of behaviours

3. Your Team

As stated above, having the right people in the right jobs is critical for success in your RTO. But unfortunately, we often find that training and professional development of staff is not given a high priority. And when it does happen the focus is more likely on the professional development needs of teaching staff rather than for all staff across the RTO.

Success is more likely to occur where there is a culture of collaboration across the RTO. When people work together across functions it enables sharing of information and knowledge, leading to enhanced efficiency and client responsiveness. No doubt, your RTO is made up of many teams including: student services, teaching, administration etc. but remember that these teams cannot work effectively if they work in isolation.

Why not work towards:
  • defining team roles to enable targeted development and support for all members
  • skilling all staff for their roles
  • using the diversity of your staff teams to build strength
  • encouraging partnerships within the RTO i.e. between teams and outside the RTO (with industry, associations and with other RTOs)

4. Your Support Services

When we think about Support Services, most people probably think about the services that support students. But an RTO has many internal and external stakeholders and it is essential that you provide the support that is required for all these stakeholder groups.

In terms of capability development, you must ensure that you support all staff, not just the trainers or the managers.

What can you do support your staff?
  • Implement effective communication channels
  • Develop and implement a systematic approach to performance management for all staff to develop a culture of learning
  • Provide targeted professional development for all staff
  • Create a work environment that fosters participation, allows experimentation and encourages networking within the organisation.

5. Your Documentation

We are not just talking about the routine compliance documentation here. Of course, this is an essential part of your day to day operations. But really to build capability and look strategically to the future, you will need to document your plans and development activities and provide your staff with access to both strategic and operational goals so that they can keep track of progress towards achieving goals.

So often in RTOs it is only the owner or the senior staff who are aware of the goals of the RTO. We have even worked in RTOs where the managers don’t share the training documentation including the strategy documents, with staff, preferring to control operations and assume that staff only need to see the information that directly relates to the role they are performing. But this is not conducive to building trust and it certainly does not help to create team.

Ideas to build trust through your approach to documentation:
  • Be creative in the way you document your plans and progress so that people can contribute, and together they can celebrate success and work together to solve the difficult issues that arise.
  • Share strategic plans and operational goals with all staff
  • Communicate progress and celebrate successes together
  • Use a shared planning system and calendar to keep all staff in the loop
  • Make sure staff have access to all the documentation they need to do their job and to understand how their job contributes to the bigger picture
  • Develop comprehensive policies and procedures that establish the boundaries for performance and then give staff the autonomy to operate within these guidelines.

How does your RTO build the capability of staff? Do you need some time to think it through? We will help you keep this in mind over the next few weeks with our social media posts.

Check us out on Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn. Or you can contact us at

Harris, R, Clayton, B and Chappell, C. Supporting vocational education and training providers in building capability for the future. NCVER, 2007
Heard, GM and Sell, K. The Essential Guide to RTO Compliance. 2014







Gillian                                                      Karen


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2 thoughts on “What are the 5 areas you should focus on to build capability in your RTO?

  1. Gillian and Karen, great advice which should be implemented in all RTOs. Looking forward to your next blog post.

    1. Thanks Susan, we appreciate your comment.

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