I often read about advertised VET sector professional development workshops on topics such as “how to pass an audit” or “getting ready for audit” and “what usually goes wrong at audit”. We‟ve all seen these favourite PD topics go round and round, still focusing on the same mistakes RTOs make at audit. I agree that PD workshops offer an opportunity to listen to people with expertise, but I have to wonder why, in the last ten years that I have been consulting with and auditing RTOs, we as a sector generally, haven‟t come too far in our ability to get through the audit.
In 2002, when the AQTF became part of the staple diet for RTOs, we all rushed about for one or two weeks before an audit, making sure everything was in order, writing policies that never existed and making sure student files were up to date. All sounds too familiar and pretty standard.
It‟s now 2011 and someone from the registering authority rings to say they would like to conduct a monitoring audit. PANIC sets in, your heart races, you need another, much stronger coffee and the rest of the week and perhaps part of the next week is spent making sure everything is in order. Again all sounding too familiar? Whilst there are not too many RTOs who may have to go to these lengths, there is a lot that do. Wouldn‟t it be nice to have so much confidence in your systems that you could invite the auditors to come in tomorrow?
So how do we fix the situation? What do we need to do to make sure that everything is in order, all day, every day? How do we change this thing we call organisational culture? You will all be pleased to know there is a lot we can (and have to) do but here‟s one of the fundamentals.
My belief is that we may have strayed too far away from the basics of putting things in place which constitute having a quality management framework that works, all the time, every time. I‟ll clarify that in a moment. Whilst this move away is probably not attributable to RTO staff being less trained in what quality management systems are, it may be more that the regulatory benchmark that we‟ve been pitching at has become less guiding or prescriptive. The hue and cry from many RTOs which partly influenced the massive shift in the focus of the AQTF between the 2005 and the 2007 version, was that the older version was too prescriptive, telling RTOs how to run their business. Under the guise of „modern regulation‟ the shift was towards an outcomes focussed framework that was descriptive rather than prescriptive. For those readers who have played in both spaces, you‟ll know what I mean.