RTO 101 – What is an RTO?

RTO stands for Registered Training Organisation.

If you Google RTO there are a small number of sites that give a very similar definition along the lines that RTOs are training providers registered by the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) or in some cases, a state regulator, to deliver vocational education and training (VET) services to students. This training leads to a nationally recognised qualification or statement of attainment, where a student does not fully complete their training or is only undertaking training in specific Units of Competencies and/or Modules.

Before we get too involved with what an RTO is, you need to understand what VET training is and where it sits within the Australian Education industry.

If we look at the standard life cycle of a student in Australia, at some point in Secondary School or High School as some still call it, a student will finish and have three options that include:

  • No further education – you can chose to leave school and have no further education or training.
  • Tertiary education – you can apply and where successful, complete tertiary level studies to achieve a degree etc.
  • Vocation Education & Training (VET) – you can choose to further your education or expand your skills and knowledge within a particular sector of an industry.

There is a difference between Tertiary and VET education and what qualification level you will achieve as shown below.

We generally all know that, if successful, you obtain a Bachelor’s degree from a University and can go on to complete higher levels of study as well. However, unless you work or have studied in the VET sector, most people are unaware of this sector of education or don’t really understand it.

The VET sector delivers education and training in a set of vocational and technical courses or qualifications that are more focussed on preparing the student for immediate employment. Students acquire practical skills, attitudes, knowledge and understanding relating to specific occupations. For example, the VET sector is is where you would complete an apprenticeship or traineeship as a carpenter, plumber, butcher, electrician, hairdresser or in business administration etc in one of the qualification levels shown in the above image, that is Certificate I, II, III or IV, Diploma, Advanced Diploma, Vocational Graduate Certificate or Vocation Graduate diploma. And it is the industry and the industry bodies that specific occupations belong to that design, develop and deliver nationally recognised training packages that consist of qualifications, courses, units of competencies and modules.

The importance of ‘nationally recognised training packages’ is critical to this sector because without them this sector would not have had the growth it has experienced in the 21st century.

The Australian VET sectors history comes directly from the technical education industry, that being TAFEs. Although the technical education industry has a history of over 150+ years in Australia and was generally delivered through TAFEs, there were private technical education providers back in the late 19th century, an example being Stott’s Secretarial College in Melbourne, but it wasn’t until the late 80s to mid 90s that private providers of technical education grew.

Along with the growth of private providers came major growth in the framework and legislation for the sector. However, it wasn’t until the establishment of the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) in 1995 and the decision in 1996 to develop and introduce national training packages across a wide range of industries and occupations, that this education sector as it is today, was born. Without these milestones and growth, this sector most likely would not have had the growth that it has had.

Anyone who has been in the VET sector long enough, hence watched or participated in this growth, may beg to differ to the above statement. However simply put, prior to these milestones, a person could study and receive a Certificate III, let’s say in Childcare in NSW and then move to QLD, where they would have found that the qualification would have been of no use to them in obtaining work in the childcare industry. Why, because the childcare centres would not have recognised the qualification from a different State and to obtain a job in childcare, you needed to have a qualification. It isn’t that the childcare centre themselves didn’t want to recognise it, it is their Industry and Industry bodies and the State or other legislation for that industry that wouldn’t allow them to recognise it. Also, VET training providers in QLD would not have been allowed to recognise it, meaning the person would have had to redo the qualification.

As part of further Australian VET reforms, in January 2016 a new model for developing and maintaining training packages came into effect. The change was designed to put industry at the centre of training package development. As part of the reform the Australian Industry and Skills Committee (AISC) was formed and works closely with Skills Service Organisations (SSOs) and Industry Reference Committees (IRCs) to develop training packages to closely align them with current industry practices and meet employer expectations.

Now that we have covered a very basic version of what VET training is, we can start to look more closely at what an RTO is.

As previously mentioned, an RTO is a Registered Training Organisation and they are the only providers who are registered to deliver vocational education and training qualifications and courses. They are recognised as providers of quality-assured and nationally recognised training and qualifications.

There are many different private and public education providers that are registered as an RTO. The RTO types as listed on www.training.gov.au include:

Just because you are an RTO does not mean you can deliver training in any and all training package qualifications and courses etc. Each RTO will have a Scope (a specific set of qualifications, courses, unit of competencies and/or skill sets) that they are registered to deliver training in across specific national training packages. Also, as part of their registration, an RTO can only deliver the training at a specific state or territory level unless they have been registered to deliver nationally. You can always see for an RTO what their registered scope is by going to www.training.gov.au and once you have found the RTO go to the Scope section and it will display a table similar to the one below:

The other thing to consider about an RTO is not just what type they are, as discussed above, but also what type of student they can deliver training too.

There are two different main types of students that an RTO can deliver training to, based on their RTO registration. The student types are:

Local/Domestic Student

Overseas Student in Australia on a Student Visa

All RTOs can train the student type of Local/Domestic (typically an Australian Citizen or someone holding an Australia Permanent Resident (PR) visa), however only certain RTOs that have been registered as a CRICOS provider can recruit, enrol and deliver training to overseas students studying or intending to study in Australia on Student Visas.

CRICOS stands for Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students and this register lists all Australian education providers, approved to offer courses to these overseas students. For each education provider on the register, it will list what courses they offer.

It is important to note that a CRICOS registered provider is NOT just an RTO, they can be education providers from different sectors of the Australian Education Industry such as Schools (both public and private), Universities, TAFEs etc. They can also be an ELICOS (English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students) provider.

Although the Sales & Marketing and Academics (training delivery and assessment) departments should be the most critical departments that RTOs focus on, unfortunately that isn’t the case.

Over the last 8+ years, as all the reform and legislation that has been introduced in this sector, it was meant to benefit and improve the sector and generally speaking it has, however there has been one major impact that many RTOs not only see as negative but also have struggled with, which is compliance management.

In any business, private or public (government), there is always one or many forms of compliance (rules and regulations) that it must adhere to. Compliance is critical across all businesses in Australia. There is different compliance requirements that, let’s say are generic, all businesses will have to comply with them no matter what industry they are in. Some examples include:

• ATO compliance
• Payroll compliance
• ASIC requirements
• Insurance requirements

For businesses in specific Industries, they would then have another level of Industry specific compliance requirements to adhere to and manage, and this definitely applies to the RTO Industry. To name just a few areas, RTOs must comply with all components of the Vocation Education and Training (VET) Quality Framework that includes:

• Standards for Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) 2015
• Australian Qualifications Framework
• Fit and Proper Person Requirements
• Financial Viability Risk Assessment Requirements 2011
• Data Provision Requirements 2012.

All RTOs, unless otherwise exempt, must also comply with the Australian Vocational Education and Training Management Information Statistical Standards (AVETMISS). AVETMISS is a national data standard which ensures the consistency and accuracy of vocational education and training (VET) information.

And this list above, although not exhaustive, is for any RTO.

If an RTO is also a CRICOS registered provider or offers specific VET courses with additional licensing requirements, they will have an extra set of compliance requirements to adhere to and manage as well.

Compliance management once was a very minute aspect of an RTOs business, however it has increasingly become a major component of an RTOs business and many RTOs have either recruited inhouse compliance managers and staff or have outsourced it. No matter which format they have chosen, at the end of the day it is the RTOs direct responsibility, especially the owners and contact names listed for the RTO on www.training.gov.au, to make sure they are correctly meeting their compliance requirements.

There is a lot more to learn about an RTO, however it is not possible to do in one article. We hope this has helped explain simply what an RTO is.

It is important to note that this is a simple resource to help explain to people who are new to an RTO what an RTO is. It by no means is an in-depth resource for technical or legal requirements or information and there are things left out deliberately, so as not to confuse the reader.