Important questions to ask an RTO

Choosing an RTO (for rail organisations and assessors)

The role of RTOs in skills recognition

Unless a rail organisation is also a registered training organisation, the services of a registered RTO will be needed to meet their training and assessment requirements. In many cases, the RTO will charge a fee, paid by either the applicant or their  employer, for Skills Recognition services. An RTO’s role in Skills Recognition is to provide applicants with a quality assured assessment process that meets the criteria of fairness, flexibility, reliability and currency. RTOs must also have appeals mechanisms for applicants. So, while we require the RTO to do what is best for the applicant, the assessment process has to be rigorous.If the applicant is deemed to be competent in all of the units of competency that make up qualification or skill set, then the RTO can issue a qualification. However, if there are gaps in the applicant’s competence then the RTO will usually identify these gaps and suggest different ways in which the applicant could undertake further training. This could be a combination of on- and off-the-job training.

Choosing an RTO

Choosing a suitable Registered Training Organisation to assist with Skills Recognition processes is a major step and rail organisations should take care when deciding which RTO best meets their needs. Enterprise RTOs operating within a rail organisation are a known entity, but may not always be able to accommodate all SR processes, especially if the subject matter or qualification is outside of their registration parameters. Conversely, industry-based RTOs may have approval of a skills set or qualification package, but may not have considered fully how the packages can be aligned to the rail context.

Questions to ask when sourcing a suitable RTO

Are you a registered training/education provider organisation?

What is your registration number?

Australian residents can confirm that a training provider is registered to deliver nationally recognised training by searching the national database on vocational education and training in Australia, is the official national register of information on training packages.

What qualifications, Training Packages or Skill Sets do you offer within your scope of registration?


It is important that the RTO is registered to offer the skills sets or qualifications you are intending to include within SR practices. If an RTO does not have the skill set or qualification on their scope of registration you  will not be able to offer the assessment services you require.

How experienced are you as an RTO?


Has the RTO provided training in your industry before?

How long have they been offering the course you are considering?

Can they provide contacts of other organisations they have worked with as references for you to contact?

Who will be delivering your training? Do all the trainers and assessors for the course have current industry knowledge, experience and appropriate qualifications? Can they provide details of their experience (ask to read their CVs, check their references etc.)? Ask to speak to them.

Does this course lead to an Australian Qualifications Framework qualification?

We have specific training needs. How does the accredited training you offer assist us to meet those needs?


Organisations need to be confident in their choice of RTO, as the relationship is likely to last for a long time. Asking the RTO how they can assist in meeting your needs clarifies their understanding of your requirements and level of previous experience.

An RTO should be able to provide details of the relevant Training Package(s) and how the units of competency within that Training Package may be used to develop a qualification that meets organisational requirements. Once a qualification has been identified the RTO should be able to develop a delivery and assessment strategy which can include processes for recognising the existing skills of employees. This information is important as it will help you assess the extent to which the RTO can meet your needs using pathways which will lead to a nationally accredited qualification. 

What sort of assessment and delivery strategies can you provide our organisation?


Assessment and delivery strategies need to be appropriate to the organisational setting and achievable. A variety of assessment and delivery strategies could be possible, including combinations of on and off-job training and assessment as well as Skills Recognition processes. Some RTOs may be able to offer training using on-line delivery

How does SR fit in with your strategies?


The RTO should be able to outline their processes for Skills Recognition and how this can assist the organisation to achieve its desired training outcomes, including the impact of the skills recognition process on any subsequent training. For example, how might recognition of prior knowledge and skills help to reduce the overall training needed and are the assessment strategies used in the RTO appropriate for Skills Recognition? Can the RTO provide evidence of how they integrate SR into assessment processes and fit them to the context of a rail organisation setting?

What does your SR process involve?


Ask your chosen RTO how the SR processes will be carried out, who will be involved, how long it will take, where it will take place and what preparation is needed. It is also important to ensure that the RTO is able to tell you how they assure the quality of their Skills Recognition process.

What are your processes for validating and moderating your assessment and skills recognition strategies? 


Validation and moderation processes used in Skills Recognition should be similar to those used for assessment of learning. They are necessary for quality assurance purposes and to ensure that organisations are confident that the processes used by an RTO are valid (fit for purpose), reliable (consistent) and current (assess up to date knowledge/skills) and that they result in the collection of quality evidence.

What will it cost?


Costs vary between RTOs depending on the amount of time and resources required for skill recognition activities. What are the costs and the breakdown, is it easy to understand? Is the RTO quoting a cost per trainee, or cost per units of training each individual requires? How does the RTO cost the assessment of prior learning?

Is the course provider willing to have a contract with you clearly stating their responsibilities and yours, and a key contact person?

Ask what is the total cost of the training, including any additional fees on top of course fees

 Ask  for a copy of  the refund policy

And ask

• What resources are provided as part of the course fee?

• What resources, if any, do you have to provide yourself?

• What is the duration of the course?

• What are the minimum/expected hours of attendance per week?

• How many hours are you expected to spend on learning and assessment activities outside of formal attendance time?

Who in our organisation will need to be involved?


Skill recognition processes can be detailed and time-consuming activities for a wide range of people within an organisation such as training professionals, supervisory staff, work colleagues and in-house assessors. Employees who are participating in the Skills Recognition process will need support to prepare their evidence and time to prepare for any interviews or other processes (challenge tests, for example) that might be part of the recognition process.

What support can you provide individual employees during the SR process?


 For example, support for those with language, literacy or numeracy difficulties. Undertaking SR may require ongoing support such as advice on the process, help in putting together evidence, checking for quality of evidence, help with paperwork, and post-assessment advice on any further learning they may need to undertake in order to attain the targeted qualification.

How do you evaluate the effectiveness of your SR strategy?


This can include, but is not limited to, making sure the Skills Recognition activities used are credible to applicants, worthwhile as learning processes, and cost effective as an alternative to other training options, and of value to the organisation.

Will training and/or assessment be undertaken in a real workplace?

If a simulated environment is to be used to replicate a workplace, consider how realistic is the environment.

If work placement is to be included as part of the course, will the training provider find you a workplace or will you be expected to find one yourself?

Rail is a safety-critical industry. How do you manage any risks associated with SR?


The risk of assessing someone as competent, who later proves to be incapable of performing a task, or job, is ever-present. This is especially true when the individual seeking SR does not perform a given task on a frequent basis. Rail organisations need to ask their RTO(s) how a risk-based approach to SR can be accommodated.

How flexible are your services?


Is the RTO flexible about providing training and assessment where and when you need it, e.g. on site, off site, before or after hours?

Can the RTO provide training in a way which suits your business and individual staff needs – e.g. on the job, web-based, and can they provide language, literacy and /or numeracy support if required?

Does the RTO use existing training and assessment materials or are they tailor-made to your business needs?

Can the RTO assess your staff’s prior learning and experience?

Will the RTO work with relevant staff from your enterprise in designing the course? Can your staff provide some of the training in partnership?

Will the RTO coordinate additional, specialist training requirements that they are unable to provide themselves?

Evaluation and longer term support


Can the RTO explain how their services will benefit your business and provide an analysis of the Return on Investment (ROI)?

Is the RTO committed to a long term partnership with your business, how is this demonstrated and what ongoing support will they provide? Will they work with you to evaluate the training?

Will your staff gain a nationally recognised qualification at the end of the training (if this is your objective)?

Will the RTO provide records of staff training participation and assessment? (Attendance, qualifications etc.).


 Partnering with an RTO

Not all rail organisations have the required resources to become a registered training organisation, but would still like to deliver in-house accredited training or assess applicants using skills recognition processes. For these organisations, partnering with an RTO makes good sense. The partnership allows them to:

  • deliver nationally recognised training and qualifications to their employees
  • be assured of the integrity and quality of the assessments.

The basis of RTO partnerships

Under the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF), RTOs may establish partnerships with non-registered organisations to offer a broad range of training and assessment services. Such partnerships can:

  • increase people’s access to nationally recognised qualifications
  • ensure national training and assessment arrangements meet industry requirements
  • facilitate the efficient use of training and assessment resources
  • promote the exchange of ideas, information and resources between different groups in the national VET system.

Establishing a partnership arrangement provides an opportunity to share skills, effort and resources for mutual benefit, thus reducing costs by achieving economies of scale. Non-registered organisations may enter into an agreement with an RTO to deliver nationally recognised training or assessment services on behalf of the RTO, which remains responsible for compliance with the AQF.

Partner responsibilities

When a non-registered organisation partners with an RTO, the partners have the following responsibilities:

  • the training applicant needs to be enrolled with the RTO
  • training and assessment records must be kept and transferred to the RTO
  • the RTO quality assures the training and assessment throughout the life of the agreement
  • the RTO issues the qualification or statement of attainment
  • the RTO can only issue a qualification or statement of attainment for those qualifications that appear on its scope of registration.

Record keeping

It is the RTO’s responsibility to ensure the partner organisation is aware of the training and assessment records that must be kept and transferred to the RTO. At a minimum, the records transferred should include the assessment results and credit transfer outcomes. State and territory registering authorities may require access to these training and assessment records.

Both the RTO and the partner organisation need to establish a very clear picture of their organisations' needs commitment, resources and strategic intent before entering a partnership arrangement. It is important to establish the gaps each organisation is looking to fill by the partnership arrangement.

The partnering organisations need to be sure they can work together, understanding each other’s values, attitudes and culture and ensure a strong basis for mutual respect and teamwork.

The partnership arrangement

Once the organisations have decided to form a partnership arrangement, time is well spent establishing a framework that deals with what and how things will be achieved. It is important all partners state their key interests, intent and needs before developing the details of the partnership.

For enterprise RTOs

Many rail organisations operate as enterprise RTOs. Enterprise registered training organisations are defined by the following characteristics:

  • the core business of the registered enterprise is not the provision of training
  • the enterprise RTO provides accredited training for the employees of the enterprise
  • the enterprise RTO is embedded or integrated within the business processes of the enterprise.

The concept of the enterprise RTO is relatively new in Australia (no more than 20 years) and it is therefore not surprising that there is not as much information on the process of skills recognition in enterprise RTOs as there is for other situations.

A 2005 study of enterprise RTOs identified the following benefits of RPL for employers and employees:

‘Enterprise RPL processes can reduce the time involved in making RPL assessments, provide assessment on-site and, therefore, reduce the costs both to the employer and the employees while still retaining a rigorous and consistent process. Additional benefits of an enterprise-based RPL system include:

  • a process designed to specifically meet the enterprise’s needs
  • a process that can be integrated into other enterprise processes such as work appraisal, workforce deployment, and remuneration
  • an assessment process which is designed to fit in with production and service schedules
  • the reduction of time employees are non-productive on account of skills development activities’.

The following recommendations also come from this study:

‘Before an enterprise-based RPL process is established, the following activities need to be undertaken:

  • identifying the areas within the enterprise for potential RPL
  • investigating potential outcomes
  • identifying possible RTO partners with appropriate registration parameters
  • investigating infrastructural barriers which will need to be overcome
  • discussion around the opportunities an RPL process might provide
  • gaining commitment to an RPL process from key people within the enterprise
  • identifying how the partnership(s) between the enterprise and RTO(s) will work, that is:
    • internal RPL process with external validation
    • RTO personnel work on-site to assess and evaluate the RPL process
    • RTO works on-site to develop enterprise capacity to assess RPL with validation from RTO
    • off-site, external RPL assessment supported by the enterprise
    • other suitable arrangements
    • designing a suitable process, taking into account the special capabilities and resources each of the partners can contribute to the process’.


The Enterprise Registered Training Association (ERTOA) is a key national body that represents and supports enterprise RTOs. As part of the COAG RPL promotion project, ERTOA undertook research into RPL processes among a sample of enterprise RTOs. The model of best practice RPL processes in enterprise RTOs overleaf is adapted from the findings of ERTOA’s report.

For further information on enterprise RTOs, and a more detailed discussion of their RPL model, visit the ERTOA website at


A Skills Recognition model for enterprise RTOs



Adapted, with permission, from ERTOA (2009) RPL models in enterprise registered training organisations (final member's report).