The things we have learned

This week we launched our ‘Good for Business’ month. To kick the month off we filmed a video and discussed our reflections on the lessons we have learned from working with RTOs over the past 13 years. The Learning Community has worked side by side with RTO owners and staff in so many different aspects of operations and management. We have helped set up RTOs, helped manage day-to-day compliance, prepared for audits, developed assessment tools and helped solve a range of problems – both big and small. So we know that operating an RTO can be a time-consuming and stressful job.  Compliance management is the number one headache!

The most important lesson learned is that a proactive approach to compliance is essential! Reactive RTO managers who spend all of their time looking back or responding to problems just don’t have the capacity to respond to the challenges or the opportunities that arise. Of course you can’t anticipate all of the surprises and no one can be proactive all the time. But, from what we have observed, RTO managers who consider compliance management to be part of normal business operations are better equipped to weather the storms than those who see compliance as a ‘have to do’ activity. This proactive approach requires serious investment in people, development, resources and time!  How will this investment be rewarded? With quality processes and a team that is committed to compliance management and improvement!

You’ve probably heard us talking about this before and no doubt you will again!! So why bring it up again now? We are getting close to finishing the second edition of our book and wanted to draw your attention to some of our reflections on RTO business management to whet your appetite. So first an unashamed plug for our upcoming book, then a few more of those lessons learned……

Our book

In 2014 we published our first book ‘The Essential Guide to RTO Compliance: What Every Registered Training Organisation Should Know About Compliance to Build a Better Business’.  Huge title but a pretty practical and hands on book. When we wrote the book we hoped it would help people get on top of compliance and improve their practice. Basically, we were hoping to help leaders foster a shift from the  “have to”  to the “want to ” attitude towards compliance management.

In our second edition we have addressed the changes in the sector and broadened our focus. We include topics such as the student experience, student centered auditing and risk based auditing. We also discuss quality training and assessment programs and the RTO team. We’ll let you know when it will be available but for now, here are a few lessons for you to consider if you are new to RTO management or perhaps, wanting to make some changes.

Who is responsible for compliance in your RTO?

Compliance management is part of good business management and reaches beyond the Standards for RTOs 2015 and so deserves serious, ongoing commitment. Our 1st lesson is that it is important for the RTO to assign a central person or a team of people who are responsible for compliance. Compliance is one of those activities that will always slip off the to-do list to make room for seemingly more urgent tasks, so if you make it someone’s job, or at least a big part of someone’s job it is more likely to get the attention it needs. And despite the fact that we, as consultants, would benefit greatly if people outsourced compliance to us, we actively advocate against outsourcing all compliance functions! It is really important that there is expertise and commitment to compliance within the organisation itself. If compliance capability is not encouraged and developed, it is seen as outside of the key results of the business. And in addition to assigning oversight to an individual or a team, we believe that it is just as critical for all staff to be involved in compliance related activities.  This leads us to our 2nd lesson….

Compliance is a team sport

The 2nd important lesson is that compliance is a team sport. To be successful at it, everyone has to play. Everyone has a role. The attitude has to be that we are all on the same side. An RTO will never operate effectively and in a compliant manner if the compliance people are considered to be the enemy or difficult to work with. For compliance management to become an integral factor to business success, you must find ways to break down the silos and work collaboratively. Everyone in an RTO should have some compliance related KPIs in their job description. Compliance should be an integral part of the way the business operates and should be included in everyday team discussions. To be effective your should involve everyone in regular team discussions. For example, don’t leave student support out of the trainer/assessor discussions about compliance matters. Each group will bring different information and a different perspective to the discussion that will help with both day to day operations and future planning.

But of course, team involvement is not enough it you don’t document your activities. We can’t count the number of times RTOs have been let down because of the lack of clear records! Even if you establish an outstanding proactive management style it will all be wasted if you don’t document what you are doing. It’s not just about satisfying the requirements of an auditor. When there is no documentation the compliance efforts are likely to be less effective because without documentation you have no benchmarks for improvement. Your approach then becomes reactive and less strategic. A good system of recording compliance related data that can be accessed by a broad range of staff will help to build a platform where compliance responsibility is shared by all staff and provide valuable information for quality improvement practices.

Compliance and Reputation

Compliance of course ultimately impacts on the reputation of the RTO. Reputational risks are very real and will impact on the success of the RTO. We are all becoming very familiar with the public humiliation that an RTO faces when their history of non-compliance becomes the focus of public discussion. So, this 3rd lesson centers on the need for a strong and positive culture of integrity, openness and support across your RTO team and hence, builds on lesson 1!  Your staff are less likely to report possible areas for improvement or non-compliance when they fear that they will be criticized or that negative outcomes will occur for them as employees. Successful RTOs build ways for staff to identify and communicate areas for improvement. They are transparent about their practices and engage a broad range of staff in their compliance activities.

We can’t stress enough here that for your RTO to be successful and sustainable you must develop a culture of compliance across the whole RTO. The 3 things that you can do to foster a compliance culture are (1) to provide clear and consistent communication, (2) to build checks and balances into daily practice to confirm that the organisation is doing the right things and (3) to respond and correct any issues as they arise.

The importance of leadership

Finally, lesson 4 – the culture of any organisation is shaped by its leaders and the quality of its communication. It is the leaders of the RTO who will establish the right attitudes toward compliance. Leaders and managers must provide clear and regular messages about the commitment of the RTO to doing things well and in compliance with the standards. They should remind people regularly, during staff meetings, newsletters, emails and staff conferences etc. It may also be helpful to encourage a positive attitude to compliance management by providing  rewards and incentives to meet compliance targets. These are the sorts of ways we have seen RTOs demonstrate their commitment to compliance.

Leaders must also use checks and balances to monitor progress towards achieving a compliance culture and they must also act to correct any identified issues. Make sure your policies are implemented appropriately and followed by staff, implement a schedule of continuous improvement and conduct regular audits and rectification of issues as they arise are all signs of a commitment to compliance.

Another aspect of leadership and team management that is sadly lacking across the sector is a comprehensive Human Resources (HR) system. Good recruitment practices will enable the RTO to employ staff who are best suited to the culture of the organisation. Secondly, a well thought out performance management system that is consistently and fairly implemented will help RTO leaders and managers ensure that all staff know and understand their role, have clear and achievable goals for that role and that they are equipped to do their job. Do you use these processes effectively in your RTO?

And finally….

We talk about the importance of culture and compliance in our book. And for those of you who are hearing this and thinking that you don’t know where to start, we also provide a whole range of templates and tips in the book to get you started. If you are keen to improve your HR practices and build an effective team we have a range of staffing guides that will step you through these very important aspects of your business. And of course we can help you with monitoring your compliance practices.

If you would like to watch the video we filmed on this topic, click here

As I said earlier, we want you to build your own compliance system but would love to help you do that or help you stay on track with your plans for the future!

You can contact us at


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