Trainer Competence = Trainer Confidence

This article first aired through VET:eXpress 

For more great articles, you can check out VET:eXpress from aXcelerate

You sit down with the auditor, they pull open a file and place it in front of you.

“You see from X, Y, and Z, the evidence isn’t compliant with the training package requirement, nor has the trainer followed your processes; the answer has been marked correct, but it doesn’t align with the marking guide you have provided.”

It’s every RTO manager and owner’s fear. And do you know why we don’t think this should happen, and what the response is when situations like this are reviewed?

“But they have the TAE...”

Famous last words!

Tales of Great Expectations

We don’t expect a chef to know every recipe the first day they start at a new restaurant, or an engineer to know the exact specs of a machine at first glance, so why do we expect our trainers to be able to jump into a class on day one?

Well, for those of us who started in this industry years ago, it’s how we started. We took a job, got thrown into a classroom with no resources, no plan, and were expected to come up with… something. So, we designed assessments, madly created session plans, even sometimes creating all the resources for a course around a work-based project. We made it work.

Auditing was different back then. The expectations of the regulator were different, the standards were different. To adapt a well-known quote,

The only constant in VET is change.

So how do we prevent our trainers from doing the wrong thing? And more importantly, how can we support them to do the right thing? Try these three steps:

Step 1 : Build a Solid Foundation

We need to start with having the right tools, forms, policies, and processes. Almost every RTO I have ever worked with knows this, and for the most part, has some dedicated resources to ensuring this. If you purchase most of your policies and assessments, contextualisation is required. Your staff should be able to read a policy or an assessment tool and know what to do.

However, there are always documents you can’t buy. You must set your own training and assessment strategies, your own delivery schedules, and generally build your own session plans.

A few good questions to ask your staff:

  • Do you know where to find all your training and assessment resources?
  • Do you have access to the marking guides and mapping guides?
  • Have you reviewed them?
  • Do you know the process for reassessment? RPL? Reasonable adjustment?

If the answer is no or a blank stare, you need to spend some time providing this basic information to staff, because the way your business runs is different from other RTOs. These are the kinds of questions that auditors will ask under the new Student Audit Model. It’s not about just having a compliant process, but ensuring that you follow it and your staff understand it.

Step 2: Contextualise to the Individual

Once you have a roadmap which outlines what your staff need to know and how to do it, you need to contextualise training to the needs of individual staff members. This starts with figuring out what they actually know, and where their skills lie. Let’s be honest, TAE providers can be a mixed bag, and trainer roles within organisations can vary.

Assuming that all trainers and assessors come with the same skill set is, like many other assumptions, a recipe for disaster. Understanding your trainers’ current levels of competency is crucial.

Regardless of the process, system, or service provider you use, establishing what your staff know is key to being able to provide them with the right support, such as the level of moderation they may need, their ability to contribute to assessment and resource development and validation, as well as how much PD they will need across specific areas.

This is where a lot of providers completely skip a step. We all talk the talk, explaining the benefits of training to employers, describing the process of how we contextualise training to the students’ individual needs, but we fail to employ the same methods in our own businesses. This causes a range of issues, but most of all, it makes us inauthentic. The staff know it and eventually, clients will figure it out too.

There is no greater branding damage for an education provider than having the public learn you are a training provider that can’t even train your own staff. So, take the time to ask questions about previous roles and responsibilities, have an internal checklist, use a framework, and establish a clear baseline for trainer competency. Then tailor a plan that will develop the trainer, building them into an even greater asset. Better yet, build them into an advocate for the organisation. A talented, engaged trainer can provide a business with tenfold value, through increased completion rates, word of mouth referral generation, and more.

Trainers who can’t engage students or who don’t understand their unit content not only present a compliance risk, but also contribute to lower completion rates, and apprentices are more likely to pass on the negative feedback to employers, risking hard-fought client relationships. So do yourself, your clients, your students, and your bottom line a favour and invest in relevant professional development, which is going to provide you with a clear ROI.

Some of the questions to ask to establish a baseline include:

  • What are some of the typical tasks you have done in your previous roles?Consider assessment development, audit participation (this is great for currency), and validation.
  • Any yes to the above question needs to be followed by a quantifier. What products, when, and what were the outcomes?
  • What are some of the biggest challenges that you see when assessing your units, qualifications, and training packages? This allows you to gauge their current understanding of auditor interpretations.
  • How do you develop yourself as an educator and as an industry practitioner (chef, entrepreneur, mechanic, technician, carer, etc.)? This allows you to see whether they have a growth mindset of being a lifelong learner.

Step 3: Measure, Mix, and Repeat

A quick review before we look at step 3. By now you have:

  • a set of clear policies, procedures, tools and templates
  • staff who know what these policies and tools are, where to find them, and who to ask if they don’t know
  • established a baseline for staff strengths and weaknesses and identified areas needing more support and training

The last step is to close the loop and measure the ROI on your PD investment. The fact is, professional development is expensive. Between the actual cost of the PD, and the fact that trainers undertaking development are not training (and therefore not generating profit for the business), and will often need substitutes when they are undergoing PD, combined with the cost of planning and managing the PD by operations managers, it continually amazes me when RTOs don’t measure the impact that the development then has on the practitioner and the business.

Here are a few good questions to consider:

  • What did the participant learn?
  • How did they apply what they learned to the business and their practice?
  • How can the business use the PD to increase the value they provide to students?
  • How do we document all of this to show we invest in staff and continuously improve our practice?
  • Did the PD allow the practitioner to have more current knowledge or develop specific skills?

Once you measure the results, tweak the plan for the next round of PD, mix up the content to ensure variety for the practitioner, and repeat!

If you have limited resources or are a larger organisation, you may want to look at outsourcing the process to external service providers. Internal staff who manage the process can be pulled into other projects, so outsourcing components to service providers, who are less likely to be distracted and are paid to provide an outcome, may be more effective.

If you do want to manage the process internally, perhaps through a trainer manager, it’s recommended that you identify clear KPIs, position descriptions, and duties for both trainers, assessors, and the training manager. If you’re dealing with more than 20 trainers, and yes, this includes part timers and contract trainers, then you need a strong system to support this. Don’t manage your trainers and their currency through spreadsheets. No, it never works. Not ever. Sorry.

So that’s it: strong baseline, individualised training, and measured results. Sound familiar? You may have heard yourself saying the same thing to a client.

That’s all for this month, and happy training!




Lauren Hollows
Lauren Hollows

Author