Interview with The VET Gurus – John Price, Angela McGregor, Kerri Butter
Response from John Price regarding VET Sector Newsletter.
John started his career in education and training over 40 years ago. He was the Head of the School of Printing and Graphic Arts, became a TAFE Queensland Professional Development Coordinator and mentored many new TAFE teachers through their Diploma in Technical and Further Education.
He left TAFE in 1987 and in conjunction with InPrint Limited, one of Australia’s finest printers, established Australia’s first high technology training centre in industry for printing and graphic arts in 1988.
Since then he has assisted hundreds of organisations to gain registration as an RTO against the training standards established in the 1990s through to today, and regularly assists RTOs to maintain compliance of their quality system through internal auditing and in-house professional development.
He currently presents nationally and internationally on a range of professional development topics to assist trainers and assessors to maintain their current skills and knowledge in vocational teaching and learning. These topics include: Systematic validation of assessment; developing assessment tools, internal auditing, trainer and assessor currency, engaging with learners; and developing efficient and effective RPL assessments.
John is the owner of John Price & Associates Pty Ltd as well as a founder and partner of The VET Gurus.
Kerri began her education career working in Queensland secondary schools as a business teacher in the late 1990s. This included teaching vocational education subjects and later became the RTO Manager for the school. Since then, Kerri has undertaken roles in the broader Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector such as trainer/assessor, RTO Compliance Manager and Senior Lead Auditor. She has extensive experience as a VET compliance consultant including the delivery of professional development services through workshops, webinars, online courses and conferences including as a keynote speaker.
In 2017-2018 Kerri undertook postgraduate studies in eLearning to further hone her skills in this area. She now specialises in the administration and development of eLearning courses within the Canvas LMS by Instructure.
In 2018 Kerri started her own consultancy company, VETNexus, and in 2019 became co-founder and partner of The VET Gurus, an organisation providing professional development services to the wider Australian VET sector.
Angela started her career in the VET sector as a trainer and assessor of hospitality qualifications and the Workplace Trainer category 2 qualification. Angela went on to train the TAA and TAE qualifications and hold management roles before becoming a freelance consultant in June 1999.
Additional to having first hand experience as a trainer, working in management roles and operating her own consultancy, Angela set up and operated her own RTO (offering business qualifications and the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment) for 9 years from 2003. Angela sold her RTO in 2012. Angela’s has been providing consulting services to new and existing RTOs. Her extensive experience includes assistance in setting up new RTOs, assistance with compliance and rectification, auditing, professional development, accredited course development and assessment design, validation and review.
1. What is your experience of working in the vocational education and training sector?
We are a bit scared to add up our combined years in the sector!! The number will be quite large and show our age. Let’s just say that it is more than 20 years each.
John joined TAFE Queensland in 1976 as a teacher of printing and graphic arts, became Head of the School of Graphic Arts and left to set up in industry with one of Australia’s international award-winning printing companies to establish Intech Australia, a specialist in high technology training.
He has delivered and assessed the BSZ40198, TAA40104, and the TAE40110 and uses his complementary skills, knowledge and experience to develop and present a range of VET professional development programs including student engagement and leadership in a quality environment.
His specialist area is the development of RPL assessment kits but also enjoys conducting internal audits of RTOs as a proactive strategy for improvement rather than as a reactive strategy to regulatory compliance.
Kerri began her career with VET in Schools as a trainer and assessor and later became an RTO Manager. She moved on to become a Senior Lead Auditor in Queensland before moving on to become a TAA/TAE trainer and assessor.
Her vocational teaching background was in business and information technology which led to an interest in using technology in education. As well as working as a compliance consultant for the past 12 years Kerri has also undertaken formal qualifications in eLearning and now also specializes in this area.
Angela began as a hospitality trainer and later delivered the Workplace Trainer Category 2, BSZ40198, TAA40104 and TAE40110. Before becoming an RTO consultant Angela held a range of management roles in RTOs, developing an all round understanding of the operations of RTOs. Additional to operating a consultancy Angela set up and managed her own RTO for 9 years.
2. What is the purpose of The VET Gurus and how can training organisations benefit?
The VET Gurus was established to enable the key skills, knowledge and experiences of Kerri, Angela and John to combine into the opportunity to provide solutions to RTOs in the fields of Administration, Training and Assessment and Compliance monitoring.
RTOs benefit from a one-stop-shop approach to obtaining the comprehensive support they need whether it be for RTO compliance to the 2015 Standards, the ESOS National Code 2018 for CRICOS providers, eLearning and RTO administration.
3. How is The VET Gurus different from other professional development organisations in the training sector?
It allows us to focus on the features we offer as a team, i.e. not just three VET people who have been in the VET industry for almost 70 years, but rather the benefits of these 70 combined years as specialisations in specific RTO operations, a professional approach built on a reputation to provide practical solutions through our internal collaborative processes; and a dedication always in the back of our minds that relates to doing it right for the students.
4. What do you think are the main threats to training organisations in the current environment?
There will always be threats associated with competition between RTOs and funding but the main threat is focusing on compliance to the detriment of quality in processes, practices and outcomes. A favourite saying of John’s is “How can an auditor find a problem with our assessments and trainer and assessor qualifications when they are not vocationally competent?”.
If we are not careful the focus on compliance is often mis-directed and RTO staff can become so close to what they do, particularly in the preparation of assessments as subject matter experts and the daily reflection on vocational currency, that they miss the obvious. Obvious to auditors, that is.
5. What are your views of how we can improve the vocational education and training sector in Australia?
The VET sector is still comparatively young, professionally. Education, health and other professional sectors have been around a long time and have profited from the wisdom of professional standards that direct and maintain competent workplace practice. I believe the focus of RTO standards in the future needs to include an emphasis on ensuring outcomes go beyond those of meeting the students’ needs and determine are they meeting the needs of the industry and community our students work and live in.
Questions to John Price
Sukh Sandhu: I have known you for about 20 years. We have worked together on a number of projects and frankly, you are truly one of my Gurus who taught me so much about the vocational education and training sector. Here are some questions I always wanted to ask but never had the opportunity to:
6. You have been in the industry for over 40 years as a Head of Department at TAFE, mentor, facilitator of national workshops covering delivery and assessment, risk management, auditing, leadership and interpersonal skill development, ASQA auditor, keynote speaker at conventions and conferences, you have also assisted over 300 organisations in Australia to achieve quality certification to the range of National Training Standards, What role have you enjoyed the most and where do you think that you have made a positive difference?
On the 19th January I returned home from my first day as a teacher. My next door neighbour knew this was an important day in my life and over the fence with a beer in hand he said to me “What was it like today?” I replied to him “It was great, I can see this being the rest of my life!”. To which he responded, “I wish I was an epidemic like you!”. It has been the rest of my life.
I’ve never forgotten that statement and although having to continue study, as we all have had to do, all I’ve ever wanted to be is an ‘epidemic!’
My greatest enjoyment is working with people no matter what task I’m doing. I hope that I’ve made some impact by being a role model in my behavior towards people; and every day I ask myself “have I treated people today the way I’d like to be treated myself?” And when the answer is no, which in reality it has been on one significant occasion, I did something about it. The job I enjoy the best is breaking the perception that auditing is a chore and in doing so reinforcing the opportunity to improve through the process results in quality outcomes.
7. Do you think the ISO 9001 standards would assist the auditing practices of the vocational education and training regulator?
This is very close to my heart, not just at the moment but over the past thirty years. Back in the days of the Australian Recognition Framework (ARF) standards I assisted an RTO to become not only compliant to the ARF but also to the ISO9001 International Standards for the scope of Education and Training. In responding to your question there are a large number of similarities between the ISO 9001 standards and our current Standards for Registered Training Organisations (SRTO) 2015.
Back in 1999 I asked the question regarding why didn’t Australia adopt the ISO 9001 Standards for Education and Training? and was told “We didn’t know they existed”. If we had we would have had a quality system for Australian RTOs that was internationally recognized. I think we ‘missed the boat’.
I do see, and positively recognize, in the SRTO standards an increased focus on the customer (the student) which is very important. I think they can be expanded to include other stakeholders who are just as important. In my discussions with RTO senior management regarding the alignment of ISO 9001 with SRTO 2015 they see the opportunity international recognition presents and currently I’m putting together a document that indicates quite clearly the alignment of both standards. I also believe opportunities should be considered to examine the quality processes that have been established by the City and Guilds Institute of London that has now established an International division which for our region is based in New Zealand. Sukh, as you know I’m in my 70s now but every day that I get up I look forward to work and the opportunity we all have to improve the VET system.
Questions to Angela McGregor
Sukh Sandhu: You are a highly experienced owner and principal consultant of an RTO Consulting business. You are also one of the main Gurus of The VET Gurus panel. You have been offering consulting services throughout Australia since 1999 and here are some questions for you:
11. What motivated you to work in an industry which includes a lot of auditing, compliance and many regulations?
When I started in the industry, back when RTOs were operated under the Australian Recognition Framework (ARF), I struggled with the panic I observed during the first audit undertaken that I witnessed, while employed with a large national training company. From that point forward I made a commitment to understand the legislation and obligations of Trainers and Assessors. The more I learnt about the industry and the fear and confusion surrounding compliance the more I became committed to understanding and helping others to understand and meet their obligations.
I find it very rewarding being able to simplify and explain the obligations of RTOs in a way people understand and removing the fear and confusion.
12. What are the main areas of non-compliance you have identified in the administration systems?
The main non-compliances I am seeing in administration systems is in the information provided to students prior to enrolment or commencement and in the area of identifying student needs.
Many RTOs are still not providing the minimum information required (and clearly documented in the Standards for Registered Training Organizations (RTOs) 2015) prior to enrollment or commencement of training. Potential students need to be provided with all of the information required to make an informed decision and yet the information they receive (often not until after they enroll or commence training) is often missing the duration, location, dates and times of training ad costs, fundamental information to making a decision.
Determining the support needs of students still remains an administrative process that is not implemented in many RTOs. RTOs have an obligation to identify the support needs of students and establish if there are any needs that the RTO can’t assist with or that will impact on the likelihood of the student completing. Each RTO needs to identify a systematic approach to determining individual support needs that is relevant to the training being undertaken and the mode of delivery, going beyond the assessment of the students LLN skills. With regards to LLN assessments, I am still seeing the majority of RTOs I work with using a one size fits all approach. By this I mean they are using an LLN assessment that does not assess the skills relevant to the training the student is going to undertake. To determine an individual’s LLN ability the assessment used needs to assess the skills required for the course they are entering in to.
By reviewing the pre enrolment information and the process followed to identify student needs the RTO is going increase the likelihood of students enrolling in training that suits their needs and ability, increasing their likelihood of success.
13. How do you give an RTO client feedback that might be difficult to hear?
As an auditor I am often required to give feedback that may be difficult to hear. My approach is to simply explain the issue, such as non-compliant practices, then recommend strategies that may address the issue and work with the RTO to find a solution that fits their organization and resources available. There have been occasions that I have provided feedback that a client has not wanted to hear and they have has refused to address or simply disagrees with the feedback. On such occasions I provide the feedback in writing providing the client the opportunity to explore their options further or seek another opinion.
14. What is your message to organisations that do not spend money or time on improving their systems, processes and staff?
Every business, not just RTOs, needs to be investing in the processes, staff and be looking for ways to improve the quality of service provided to clients. When RTOs fail to do this not only are they are risk of non-compliances which can risk the business continuity, reputation and result in expensive rectifications, they are at risk of missing opportunities to improve client service, develop staff and increase staff satisfaction, get ahead of competitors and take advantage of technological advancements.
Questions to Kerri Buttery
Sukh Sandhu: You have been working in the industry for over two decades as a Trainer/Assessor, RTO Manager, VELG representative and also as a Senior Lead Auditor for the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority. You are working as a consultant for a range of organisations in the areas of establishing Registered Training Organisations (RTOs), conducting internal audits, consulting on VQF compliance, developing accredited courses, convening conferences and events, developing training and assessment materials, conducting professional development workshops and delivering Certificate IV in Training and Assessment.
15. How has been your experience of working with VELG Training as their former Director of Content and Strategy?
My introduction to working with Velg Training first started back in 2010, however I didn’t follow through initially as I had a few months off to start a family. I initially began in late 2010 as a contracted consultant to conduct audits for Queensland schools before expanding that position to work a number of days in the office as a consultant and resource developer.
This initial work gave me some very good grounding in the sector in terms of developing my experience in presenting webinars and workshops as well as larger conferences, and broadening the horizons on how RTOs operate across the country. After approximately 5 years with Velg Training I was promoted to Director and took on responsibility for the content that would be delivered by the organisation.
I had opportunities there that I would not necessarily have had elsewhere, especially in introducing initiatives such as the development of Velg2Go and bringing true eLearning to professional development in the VET sector.
I immensely enjoyed the opportunity to work with, and learn from, a number of key consultants in the sector, including John Price and Angela McGregor. I am extremely grateful to Michelle Weaver and Suzanne Puzaras for the opportunities that Velg Training provided me with.
16. The VET Gurus is a great platform providing invaluable experience and assistance in the vocational education and training sector. What main objectives do you want to achieve through The VET Gurus?
There are many providers of professional development in the VET sector, and often consultants are working on their own to do this. Each of us have our own strengths in where we provide consulting services and professional development, for example Angela is across RTO admin, John works in the CRICOS/ELICOS space as well as specializing in RPL and I cover eLearning, with all of us working in general compliance and assessment development – but together we are able to provide a more comprehensive support service to our clients, as well as providing support to each other.
All three of us are passionate about the sector and have been in positions within RTOs. Our main objective is to ensure we provide accessible, accurate and timely support to people within RTOs. To achieve this we have some great plans for what we will offer to the VET sector over the coming years, with our aim to make sure we can get the right information, to the right people, at the right time. Exciting times ahead!
17. What opportunities do you see providing education and training through the e-Learning and m-learning platforms? How can training organisations and students benefit from these platforms?
The options becoming available for RTOs are enormous with platforms that are flexible and adaptable including cloud hosted, software as a service, and self-managed installations. Any RTO that is using eLearning needs to be considering mLearning. Students are often studying using their mobile devices and don’t necessarily always have access to a laptop or desktop computer.
Ensuring resources can be accessed on mobile devices also opens up options for utilizing resources in the workplace. Imagine a student going on work-placement, being presented with a situation they need to problem solve and wanting to have access to the learning resources from their course. All they have with them is their mobile phone. If the course is designed to use on a mobile application, students will be able to make use of their course materials while on that placement and this provides added value to their learning experience.
Even when training in a face-to-face situation, making use of mobile applications can really engage learners. High percentages of learners coming through are from Gen Y, Gen Z and onwards, and often very tech reliant. Making use of apps they can use in the training room can add to engagement. We do need to remember though that we shouldn’t just use mLearning or eLearning for the sake of it. It must be based on sound educational practice and enhance the experience for our students.
18. When you were with VELG Training and even after, we had several discussions about assessment validation and moderation. My question is; why should an RTO involve an independent VET expert such as one of the Gurus from The VET Gurus panel as part of their review of their assessment systems and resources?
There are many areas to keep up to date with working in an RTO. Compliance, current industry trends, professional development, the list goes on. It is difficult to keep up with everything and this is where there is benefit in engaging an external consultant – someone who has the job of keeping up with it all. We aren’t currently working in RTOs, therefore we aren’t trying to juggle all of the things an RTO Manager or trainer/assessor needs to do. We focus on specific areas and make sure we are up to date with current practices, what is happening in other RTOs, what is happening in regulator audits, etc. We might point out areas that the RTO had not even thought of, or maybe the goalposts at audit have changed. This experience is what we bring to the assessment review, internal audit and validation processes.
Questions (to all of you):
Our last two questions are:
19. What are your views on the comparison between public and private training providers?
One of the most important values in our society is the freedom of choice. Everyone wants to be able to make a decision about all parts of their life. Both personal and professional. For this reason, it is important that both public and private (and enterprise, and community) providers exist to allow students the choice of where they would like to complete their studies. Employers also want to have that choice when employing trainees, apprentices, or sending their staff to update their skills. There will always be comparison between providers – but what is most important is that what is being offered to students is of a high standard and producing quality outcomes that meets the needs of industry.
20. What message would you like to convey to people who plan to work in the VET Sector or are in the industry but do not know where to find help and support?
There are a whole range of providers of information! Of course, the VET Gurus provide one source of information, but there are lots of places to go and people to talk to.
Firstly, join relevant groups on LinkedIn and become active in those groups. Beware that the information presented isn’t always going to be accurate, use your judgement as to what to take on board.
Look for professional development that will fill the gaps in what you need to know. There are many options for online PD (check out www.vetgurus.com.au as one place!) but also look for face to face opportunities so you can build up your support network.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask questions. This industry has been known to be quite transient, and as a consequence there are often people new to the sector. There are always people willing to help (this is where that support network comes in!).