How to choose a good RTO/Training provider

I wrote a piece about this subject a long while ago and the problems associated with people who don’t know a lot about the learning industry trying to find a provider that is going to give them the outcomes they want.  Recently the QLD Minister for Skills and training, talked about people needing to scrutinize providers before they started training, particularly VET-FEE help funded training.  She mentioned things like making sure they were registered, making sure you knew who, that is which company, was actually doing the training, was it RTO or someone else, shopping around to look for value for money and other things like that.  This all got me thinking again about how people can choose a good, high quality provider who is going to be able to meet their needs.  Now some might be quick to suggest that if you want quality you should just go to TAFE, but as we all know the TAFE system is not the answer for everyone and not there are plenty of non-public providers that will give a student, the same if not better outcomes than they would get from a public provider.

So then how do you choose?  As we know you can’t just trust the fact that a provider is approved by a regulator, it seems obvious that this is a necessary but not sufficient condition to ensure that a provider is going to be a quality one.  Price is not an indicator of quality either, there are providers at both ends of the price spectrum who produce quality outcomes for students.  Simply because you are paying more does not mean you are getting better quality, particularly when a significant number of providers are actually using the same or very similar resources for their training and assessment.  What about things like testimonials?  I have always been very wary of these unless I am actually able to talk to the person who has given the testimonial myself and even then they are a bit like references, you are never going to use someone who is going to give you a bad wrap anyway, so you are not actually getting a balanced view.

As a lot of you know I have a background in enterprise level L&D, and I also have a number of community services providers who often ask me to help out with choosing a provider for one of their clients, where the client wants to do something we don’t offer, or the we are not going to be able to meet the clients needs even if we do offer it.  So how do I choose providers from the ocean of choices out there and the numerous phone calls and emails I get each week.  The first thing is that in all honesty I don’t, because if I don’t know you for a start I am just probably not going to use you.  I as I have said before have a list, it’s not written down, its in my head and when someone asks me who I would recommend, I simply pull the name from the list that I think best suits their need.  Now to be fair, that is not going to work for the vast majority of people, I have been in this game for a while now and I know that good from the bad and who is good with certain client groups and in certain market segments and who isn’t, but most people don’t have the time or the need to develop this knowledge.  So what about an education broker, they would be able to help wouldn’t they, they would know the good from the bad.  (Ok that was tongue in cheek and you can keep reading after you have stopped laughing)

But here is a real question, is it really that hard to figure out who the good providers are and what are the key things people should be looking for.  I think the first thing is something that is not even related to the quality of the provider, it is related to why the person wants to study in the first place.  Here is the thing, if you signed up for a course just because you got a phone call or talked to someone in a shopping center and because you really didn’t have anything better to do, then may I suggest you actually spend a little bit more time thinking about what it is you actually want particularly in terms of outcomes.

Speaking of outcomes, that is the first thing I would want to know.  Not this how many people have competed outcome, which is useful in certain circumstances and may tell us something, but for me what is more important, particularly if you are someone looking for employment is just that how many people go on to get jobs as a result of the course and what sort of employment is out there for people with the qualification you are thinking of doing.  What is the point if doing a Diploma of counselling for example, if there is no job outcome at the end, or as I have argued before, if you would have been better doing a Cert III or IV and being funded to complete it.  A good provider will work with you to help you get the qualification you want not just sell you what they have on their scope.

It does also pay to look at the over all completion rates, although as those of us in the industry understand there can, given the length to complete a qualification and other time frames related to  some courses and the kind of business a provider is involved in can have an effect on the level of completions in any given year, so ask something like, what is your average completion rate over the last 5 years.  This will give you a much better picture of how many students actually finish their course than just a yearly snapshot.  But what if they haven’t been around for 5 years you might ask, well then I would want to know why they became an RTO, what bought them to the industry.  I have been amazed over the years the number of times I have asked representatives of providers, senior staff and even CEO’s that question and really not received an answer that filled my with confidence.  You are also not going to fill me with confidence if I look at your website and I see that all you are offering are VET FEE-help courses and nothing else, no certificate III, IV or lower programs, just VET-FEE Help diploma’s and above.

Ask to talk to the person who will be delivering the training if you can, or a previous student, or someone they have worked with so you can have a conversation with them about what the provider is like, and they should be willing to let you do this before you enroll in anything.  And that right there is a big one, if whoever is signing you up is not willing to let you ask questions or provide answers or if they are a broker, are not willing to tell you who the provider is and let you talk to them, until you have signed on the dotted line so to speak, run, and run away fast.

The other thing for me has always been are they trying to sell me what they have to offer or are they actually listening to what I want and trying to solve that for me.  (Quick note here as I said above, if you don’t know what you want and you are signing up because someone approached you about it and offer you an ipad, don’t sign up, go a have a little think about what you actually want first).  So many providers (both public and non-public) just try to sell you what they have and don’t ask what it is you want to do and offer you solutions built around that.

How is the training going to be delivered is also a crucial concern and what kind of support is going to be given.  Now I am a fan of online learning, but here is the thing, we are seeing across the board woeful completion rates for completely online delivered training in some cases in the single digits.  One of the reasons for this is simple, sitting alone at home, trying to do hour after hour of online training, is well boring, difficult and hard to maintain motivation for, even with all of the webinars, phone calls, emails and other kinds of supports, particularly if you know it is going to go on for the next 18 months.  Also given that there are heaps of quality providers out there who offer face to face and blended options, why unless there is a significant impediment to sometimes attending class, choose to go with a completely online solution.  This also brings me to the other thing, I want to be able to go to your office and have a chat with you, I want connection and engagement, I don’t want to be just another phone call to a call center, where they look up a file.  I want to know that the person I am talking to  knows who I am and you should too.  Why choose a provider that is based in Brisbane or Sydney or Melbourne or where ever, when there is probably one almost just around the corner, where you will get the same training and not just be another number.  This of course doesn’t apply if what you want to study is a specialist qualification, but hell if you are looking to do a business qualification there is certainly a provider pretty close to you in most cases.

So how do you choose a good training provider, use common sense, search them out in the media, see if you can talk to a previous student or the trainer.  If it is a broker and not a provider you are talking to then find out who the provider is, say thanks and go away and research both them and the broker and don’t sign up in a shopping center or over the phone, no matter how many ipads you are offered.


Anyway that’s just 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.

4 Responses to How to choose a good RTO/Training provider

  1. Mark says:

    Hi Paul,

    The internet is normally a great place for people to place reviews. There is no difference between training or accommodation overseas or other services – unless you have a recommendation or referral, you have to rely on the feedback of others. Trainers can differ in their delivery style so even that could cause a bad RTO to be great or visa versa. At the end of the day, it is an educated guess. I’ve had the same issue with selecting of schools for my children and you select based on things like location (with training, this could be delivery style or location of classrooms relative to your home). However, unethical conduct should eliminate that RTO from your options always.It’s a bit sad that some RTO’s are employing the tactics of used car salesman & they need to be removed. The regulator is providing some good assistance by policing enducements (like free iPads) but maybe RTO’s need to band together and form an ethical group that names and shames poor performers.

  2. Tracey Jones says:

    In the 80’s I developed the first proper aged care training and have been providing this training since 1990. It came from my noting a huge need to improve the standard of care given to the elderly and disabled in nursing homes by actually having training for their caring staff (A’I’N’s) as most were just trying their best as no formal qualification or training existed. I started off from a small home office and could not afford to copyright my course, (but still have original curriculum and delivered it first) and many, many people have so called “borrowed” it which became the basis of Cert III in aged care. Bronwyn Bishop back then, helped me to get it made an industry requirement. Having run it as more of a community service than a profitable business, and never having any funding it took years to save up the become an RTO rather than partner with RTO’s. We have had many thousands of students go through our courses who will attest to gaining employment from the training (even prior to finishing course at times) due to our ability, through my past Director of Nursing position contacts being able to provide 1:1 hands on training on real wards. This has proven to be the best way to train these Nursing assistants as they learn more in a day on the wards with us than they do in weeks in a classroom. We are able to train our students on real patients before they get to their work experience placement and the management can see clearly if the work experience student is skilled and they get snapped up and given shifts immediately in most cases. Other providers practical content IS their work experience so they can do little but observe and have less chance of gaining employment. We have hundreds of testimonials from students and facility directors attaining to this, and the difference between our training and other providers students performances.The students do theoretical units too of course, but our course outcomes are up in the 90% mark. As we are only small and have a small budget we rely on enrolments from word of mouth from past happy students. We struggle to keep going as it is with low cost courses and fear my investment as an RTO will now be a joke if TAFE are able to provide free community service courses. Who will ever come to us. Also it seems there is no other funding for these courses at present unless lucky enough to get funded last round. What concerns me more is that with the new volume of learning being 1200 to 2400 hours with the new standards and regulations, the usual type of person enrolling will not be able to afford in access of $5,000 (most providers now charging around $6,500) to afford trainers and staff etc, for one to two years rather than 3 months as we used to do.We will have to put fees up also but unemployed, NESB, financially challenged people are the most prevalent enrolment. They are the main groups that are willing to do such demanding and often unpleasant duties. They often say no to $1500 as think it is too expensive despite the fact they can pay as little as $50 a fortnight with no interest with us. We do this for the community, not for profit and always have. So there goes our aged care nurses (A.I.N’s) for the future. No one want’s to pay many thousands to become an assistant in nursing. They would rather do a business course or something easier. Many boutique industries like us will have to close their doors. I pity the other R/N’s like me that will now have to increase their workload and do the basic work like bed making, showering etc and rush their medications, documentation, and more technical tasks as there are no A.I.N’s to assist. In my humble opinion there should be an even playing field where good providers with great reputations and results can have prospective students apply through centrelink (as in the old CES days) to be accepted for financial help to a provider of their choice, not just TAFE or someone that has funding. Where has the “help small business” promise gone and more importantly, mark my words in a few months it will be “where have the nurses all gone”!

  3. Gavin Howard says:

    Hi Paul- Great article, unfortunately there is not a lot of clear information around that helps potential students understand even the basics or how they can conduct further research. With so much online such as reviews and feedback, potential students can also get a feel for an RTO, before they make the commitment- if they know where to go and what to look for.
    We also want to help address this situation with something that is clear and easy to read.

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