Celebrating 30 years in education and training

July 5, 2019

“Our mission has always been to support life-long learning and empower individuals and organisations with the skills, knowledge and competencies to thrive in a rapidly evolving world.” - Reay & Julie

aXcelerate started life as a learning and development RTO called VM Learning. Established in 1989 by Julie Verner-Mackay, VM Learning was a leader in vocational and professional training, providing a unique and innovative approach to the holistic development of over 50,000 people, their organisations, and their communities. Reay Mackay joined Julie in 1992 from IBM with a passion for systems and IT, that would eventually see VM Learning develop and commercialise a ‘state of the art’ student management system, aXcelerate.

Where it began - a commitment to diversity

Much of Julie’s work and personal commitment has been about fostering diversity through increased participation, particularly at leadership levels, by women, indigenous communities and other marginalized groups. VM Learning has been recognised for designing and delivering training that has included prison inmates and correctional staff, teenagers on probation, remote rural workers, remote community members and not-for-profit staff. Julie also delivered labour market programs for more than 10,000 long-term unemployed jobseekers leading to positive results for many unemployed individuals finding meaningful work.

The first initiative was a six-month mentoring program for indigenous youth at risk in Moree. It was a unique program that exposed participants to a variety of activities from filmmaking to dance. The project was highly successful and paved the way for Julie’s next initiative - an accredited Aboriginal Arts and Crafts program, that was eventually delivered to more than 60 communities across Australia. Today, several highly successful Arts Centers still operate and have achieved the mission of assisting communities to be more self-sustainable. 

Artwork by a participant in the Aboriginal Arts and Crafts program depicting his journey. (1995, left).

Indigenous Leadership

For many years, Julie was also actively involved in a leadership program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) peoples in conjunction with Wal - Meta Aboriginal Advancement program on behalf of the Indigenous Employment and Training Directorate for Queensland State Government. This program which offered either a Certificate IV in Frontline Management or Diploma in Government, saw over 600 graduates, with 70% of these moving into higher positions within the Queensland Public Service.

Julie’s work resulted in her receiving an AHRI National Leadership Award in 2006. The judges said that Julie was a clear stand out for the judging panel:

‘Her depth of understanding of cross-cultural issues has allowed for genuine change. Her groundbreaking leadership programs, based on self-leadership and emotional intelligence have had a significant impact on individuals and communities. The outcomes around retention rates, enhancement of career prospects, increase in formal studies and improved employment rates speak for themselves. Her work will have continued benefits for the wider community.’

Skilling rural Australians

The 90s also saw VM Learning undertake the coordination and delivery of over 23,000 training days to farm employees in drought affected areas under the Queensland Farmers Federation’s (QFF) TASK Project. Under a grant of $3.0M from the Commonwealth Government, QFF provided a wide range of training programs to assist rural workers to increase their skills to become more productive and competitive. Part of the QFF project involved surveying the training needs of over 4,000 participants across Queensland to identify additional training requirements for future initiatives. The original target of 17,120 training days was greatly exceeded due to the VM team’s drive and determination to achieve the project objectives.

Women's Leadership Development

A key personal driver for Julie throughout her career has been to improve gender equality by providing solutions that increase the representation of women in leadership roles. In 1994, she was fortunate to be offered the opportunity to create and deliver the Women Into Management program for the Commonwealth Regional Directors (Qld), now known as the Women as Leaders program. Delivered nationally to over 5000 women from public and private sectors, the program has been a catalyst for many women to move into leadership roles, find meaningful employment, gain promotions and undertake further studies.

An independent study conducted by Griffith University identified that significant life changes had occurred for many of the Women into Management and WAL graduates. Recognition and awards for this program include The APS Equity Award (2008), the ACLW International Women’s Day Award (2013), Sustaining Women’s Empowerment in Communities and Organisations Award (Gold Winner 2013) and LearnX Award (Gold Winner for Best Leadership Training Program (2011).

Julie with Women as Leaders participants

Corporate Training

The new millennium saw VM Learning deliver transformational leadership programs to hundreds of individuals in both private and public sector corporations around Australia. These programs were considered ahead of their time and were based on Australian and US research in the fields of Neuropsychology and Emotional Intelligence. With this same approach, Reay developed and delivered a range of leadership and supervisory skills development programs including Performance Partnerships, Personal Efficiency Program (PEP), Best Practice Leadership and Serious About Service (Handling Difficult People and Customer Service) training.

Jules and Reay in action.

The birth of aXcelerate

In 1993, VM Learning was able to establish a major training center including a state of the art technology training room in Spring Hill, QLD. At the same time, Reay was working on the company’s first training management database system using Microsoft Access which he called ‘Ben Hur’ (because it was ‘bigger than…’). To scale the business, the idea was to develop an end-to-end solution to manage all aspects of the student lifecycle. When Google launched in 1998, our fascination and life-changing engagement with the internet began. 

Thanks to Reay’s passion for technology, VM Learning was able to transform Ben Hur into a cutting-edge digital student management system. In 2000, VM Learning successfully implemented its own cloud-based SMS that streamlined all critical business functions. A key consideration was to ensure that the system was highly nimble and also highly intuitive so that staff would use it!

During an RTO audit, the auditor at the time, was bowled over with the new system and said, “Wow, this is a great system...have you ever thought of commercialising it?” This was a profound ‘aha’ moment that kickstarted everything for aXcelerate. The idea of commercialising VM Learning’s in-house SMS was not on the cards, but the auditor’s suggestion drove aXcelerate into the next stage of development. In 2005, Michael Ryan joined as the first full-time developer and commenced work on the commercial version of aXcelerate. With a few modifications, Reay and Julie had something special that could help other training organisations. The first commercial version was released in late 2008, just at the height of the global financial crisis! 

Running an RTO, Reay and Julie knew first-hand the challenges and issues facing training businesses. Their ability to get input from trainers and other VET leaders was key to developing a highly responsive product, specifically for the industry.

“On one hand was the future world of work and demand for more complex competencies while on the other was how new technologies would shape training and assessments. We knew that training organisations would need to go digital from an operational, as well as a compliance perspective.” - Reay

By 2011 it was clear that to be competitive in the VET market, aXcelerate also needed to have ‘learning management’ capability, due to the demand for eLearning. With further feedback from clients, aXcelerate continued to create more and more innovative features within a ‘one system’ model.

aXcelerate is a true family business (from left): Reay and Jules, Chris Verner our Sales Manager with Katie Mackay our Sales Executive, and Sam Mackay our Design Lead.

Highlights from the 3rd Decade

A highlight in 2010, was aXcelerate winning an iAward and an Australian Business Award, in recognition of a highly innovative, cloud-based solution for RTOs and enterprises in Australia. That same year, the Australian National Training Authority (ANTA – prior to ASQA) announced that all registered training organisations (RTOs) must have an AVETMISS-compliant student management system. As you can imagine, business really picked up from this point. Soon after, aXcelerate had three boutique office units in Milton and the space was quickly filled!

As aXcelerate continued to onboard new clients, including the first complex enterprise clients UnitingCare Community and UnitingCare Health, the development team was working hard on expanding system capabilities. These features include cutting-edge workflow automation, the industry-leading integration with Moodle LMS and interactive ‘help guides’ to help users learn various features and functions of the application. aXcelerate was also an early (and only Australian SMS provider) adopter of the new ‘Tin Can API’, the new open standard for eLearning.

In 2016, despite some setbacks as a result of the VET FEE-HELP industry shakeup, aXcelerate was named Telstra Small Business Awards State Winner for Queensland and was a finalist at the national level. aXcelerate also received a second iAward from the Australian Information Industry Association for SMS innovation. With the support of a key client, Site Skills International, a small team was established in the Philippines to provide quality assurance and testing services.

The aXcelerate family

In 2017, the business introduced a new version of aXcelerate called ‘Turbo’ which combines all optional paid features, including Competency-mapped Online Assessments, into a single package. aXcelerate has also been able to direct some of it’s passionate energy for education and training via the publication of VET:eXpress, a VET industry thought-leadership blog providing relevant industry information for Australian RTOs.

Today, with over 600 clients, aXcelerate has achieved the goal of providing a comprehensive, user-friendly system that, like VM Learning’s training programs, is founded upon the core principles of H.E.A.R.T. aXcelerate’s commitment to improvement and development of cutting-edge products continues to facilitate the growth of the business and that of its clients.

“We would like to thank all of our returning clients and business partners. Some of you have been with us for over 10 years and we thank you sincerely for your ongoing support and commitment to aXcelerate”. 

- Jules and Reay