So who are these Private RTO’s really

I have heard a lot of talk recently about private RTO’s, the need to restrict the number of them, the funding available, stop funding free enterprise with public money and the like, so I thought that at least for a moment I might explore who these people and organisations are who seem to be being demonised a little bit in this whole discussion of TAFE, public education and the VET sector in general.  It seems quite easy I think to lump all non-public (read TAFE) suppliers of VET education into the private provider category, however it is not as simple as that by any stretch of the imagination.  There are at least 3 major distinctions which can be made with the ‘private’ RTO sector:

  1. For Profit commercial
  2. Enterprise
  3. Not for profit

and even within these broad categories there are going to be a huge variety.

If we take for example For Profit Commercial providers, the vast majority of these providers are small to medium size businesses, who are not making substantial profits, work in niche areas in one maybe two sectors at the most.  There are very few private providers who are making millions out of government funding or out of training in general.  Most of them started their businesses not because they wanted to make money or get rich, but because they saw a need, they saw sometimes personally that people were dissatisfied with the training they were getting, the quality of students, the outcomes and thought they could do better.  And a lot of them do, a lot of these smaller ‘for profit’ providers provide services which are at least as good as and a lot of time better than those offered by the large corporate or government providers.  Why? That is easy, they actually care about the work they are doing, the businesses and industries they work with and the people.

So what about enterprise RTO’s  I have talked long and often about Enterprise RTO’s , their place and purpose in the VET sector and why an organisation would choose to become an ERTO.  For most of these organisations becoming and maintaining an RTO came from two reasons, firstly, it is a relatively natural extension from the standard operations of an L&D unit to provide accredited training to the organisations staff and want to be able to provide it in-house so that the content, delivery, outcomes, and costs can be better controlled and managed.  Secondly is dissatisfaction, dissatisfaction with the quality of people being recruited who already have qualifications and dissatisfaction with the quality of outcomes for existing staff doing accredited training.  It therefore becomes a relatively easy decision to move to a position where those qualifications which are vital to the business are delivered  in-house, as part of the normal regime of Learning and Development activities.  Again however for most of these ERTO’s the number of qualifications are small and in sector that relate very strongly to the core business of the organisation.  Now some of these ERTO’s operate entirely in-house, they train only their own staff and no one else, most of them utilise government funding where it is available but also provide a wide range of training that is funded, others  choose to take their expertise to the market place and provided training services to a wider (though usually only within their sector) group of stakeholders.  Again, why?  Because they know what is needed to make a competent worker, they know what a good outcome is and how it is best delivered and they know this because they are actually embedded in the industry.

Then we have the not for profits, most of which are either enterprise rto’s of some description or deeply embedded in another not for profit organisation.  These providers don’t seek to make huge profits, they seek to ensure that both those who currently work and those who want to work in their sectors (usually community services) have the best opportunities to be able to do that.  They work with the disabled, the disenfranchised, the disadvantaged and they do it well.  They do it well because that is their core business, they know and understand the world in which they work, they are embedded in the industry, they live it day in and day out and want to pass that knowledge and experience onto other.  Now not only do a lot of these providers like all of the others provide services and outcomes that are at least equal if not better than those provided by the large and public providers, they also tend to do it cheaper, making it more affordable and accessible to those who are both most vulnerable and most in need of these programs, but in general they do it with far less fees for students.  Take for example a Certificate III in Disability which attracts funding of around $2500 in QLD.  Now a student even with a concession card wanting to do this qualification at a TAFE in Queensland would have to come up with around $1000 in student fees.  How much would they pay at a not for profit provider between $20 and $100. Why? because these providers know that most of the people who are looking to do this course can’t afford $1000 and because they are connected to their communities and understand the need for people to be able to access affordable training in order to be able to change their lives.

So for me I sometimes tend to get upset when people use the term private provider like a stick, to beat the non-public side of the industry.  They drag out the horror stories of the small number of providers who do the wrong thing and suggest that is the case for everyone.  They make the assumption that TAFE is good and non-TAFE is bad.  They make the assumption that only a public provider can provide services for people with challenges and disabilities, or at a price that people can afford.  They make the assumption that public providers know the industry better than the organisations and people who actually work in the industries.  They talk about cutting access to funding and only allowing TAFE to provide Government funded courses as if this would have no effect on the lives of the thousands of people and organisations who use these non-public providers, let alone the effect it would have on the lives and livelihoods of the people who own, manage and work in these providers.

As I have said on so many occasions we need a public provider, but we also need the non-public providers as well and to suggest that TAFE can do everything that the non-public providers do, or to lump  all non-public providers into the ‘Private’ handbasket.  Is a few that misunderstands who these providers are and the services they bring to their communities.

Anyway that’s my opinion

About pauldrasmussen
Paul Rasmussen is one of Australia’s most widely read Vocational Education and Training Commentators. He provides deep, unbiased analysis and insights not only on topical issues, but also on the underlying structure and policy which supports the industry. His writing and analysis has been praised for its uncompromising and thought provoking style and its ability to focus on the issues of real importance to the sector. He has advised various government departments and ministers, training providers, public and private organisations, not for profits and small to medium enterprises on the VET sector and the issues and opportunities facing it. He is one of Australia’s most awarded learning professionals and a regular speaker at a range of conventions and forums. His extensive experience in vocational education, and learning and development coupled with formal qualifications in philosophy, ethics, business and education management allow Paul to provide a unique view of the road ahead and how to navigate it.

2 Responses to So who are these Private RTO’s really

  1. John Norman says:

    Paul, thankyou for your comments and view of RTOs and their place, role and function within our VET system.

  2. Diane Godwin says:

    Oh my goodness! Well said. I have just written to a local member of parliament about this very issue. We are a Private RTO who DO THE RIGHT THING! – Might I say, against the odds as this is not a money making machine. We started our RTO many years ago and have grown into a medium sized RTO We have always complied with RTO rules and regulations and have been through all audits without any issues. Our RTO employs twenty six (26) team members, eight (8) of whom work full time in Quality and Compliance. We hold regular full team meetings to keep everyone up to speed with professional development and we have the Q&C team constantly looking at changes, moderation of assessments, validation etc. We live and breath this business. What is heartbreaking at this point in time is to be “bundled” in with other disreputable RTO’s who are doing the wrong thing. We see it constantly.
    There is one qualification that we have that requires us to facilitate both theory and practical that we do over a twelve month period. With that qualification there is a compulsory 240 hours of work placement that the learner must complete – Before we can claim any funding at all. This means that we carry all the costs associated with the qualification until that time – If the student withdraws for any reason we can claim nothing at all. This is a huge risk for any business and difficult to sustain. Then there is the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (TAE40110). We facilitate this program over at least six months with facilitation days, mentoring, assessment days, workplace application etc. And yet, you can do this online with several organisations for: one organisation $345 – another $395. Where on earth is the quality in this? At the moment we are barely making ends meet with all the Government funding cuts reducing enrolments however we are not going to blame anyone – we are simply taking steps to strategically plan for different income streams besides accredited training. Our RTO avoids commenting on any particular RTO group or enterprise because we are aware of the complexities in the VET sector – It is simply that we need to be recognised as doing the right things and not mixed in with those who don’t.

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