When asked about their opinion on VET, 36% of responders said that quality across training organisations is the industry’s biggest challenge (The VET Lifestyle Survey, 2018).
And really, this isn’t surprising. When a student’s outcomes are so heavily determined by the training they receive, we can’t overlook quality.
If you want to demonstrate that you’re seriously committed to improving your students’ outcomes and developing your training, you need to do more than just compulsory engagement and satisfaction surveys.
Benchmarking lets you compare yourself to a similar organisation and identify faults in your business—and see where you’re excelling. Partaking in benchmarking shows that you’re committed to quality improvement. It tells your students and ASQA that you value quality VET outcomes and see your role in that process as important.
The benchmarking process is relatively easy. You find a similar RTO to buddy up with and compare your quality indicators with each other, then identify anomalies—areas where you’re doing well and they’re not, and vice versa. This helps you develop a plan of action to improve your training and improve student outcomes.
The process follows the basic cycle of continuous improvement:
Benchmarking is a part of this cycle of checking and re-checking your initiatives. You spot an issue, develop a new solution, implement it, and then check to see if there’s been an improvement. But this can be a slow process when you’re just guess-and-checking yourself.
By partnering up with other providers you can see the effects of their efforts on their QI scores. It gives you information about how initiatives will go without you having to implement them yourself. You can also gauge which processes used by your competitors are helping them thrive in certain areas.
First, you have to work out if benchmarking is right for you. What are your perceived outcomes?
Remember, you’ll have to share information about your organisation with a similar, and perhaps competing, business. What do you plan on doing with the results of another RTO? How will it improve your current quality processes?
Before you start contacting other businesses, plan what you would do with the results. Set goals for what you’d like to get out of the benchmarking processes. Perhaps there’s a particular area of engagement where you fall short and want to improve, or maybe you just want a holistic overview of your QIs compared to a similar RTO.
When you’ve identified what you could do with benchmarking, you’ll be able to judge whether it’s worthwhile for your business.
Be careful when selecting RTOs to benchmark with — you probably don’t want to share your results with a direct competitor. Try to find an organisation who offer similar types of training as you, but operates in a different region to rule them out as direct competition.
Reflect on the characteristics of your training. Do you do a lot of RPL assessments? On-the-job training? Consider your annual enrolment numbers and qualification types. Will it be more beneficial if you find partners with similar attributes? Also think about what you could learn from RTOs who are different. For example, if you mostly train school leavers, consider if you could benefit from comparing with an RTO who does a lot of training with existing workers. If you’re looking at adding more qualification levels to your scope, finding organisations who already offer those levels might be beneficial.
Once you know what information will be beneficial to you, and what information you’re comfortable sharing, you can write up details about what each benchmarking partner will provide.
Consider your goals from Step 1. Is detail going to be important? Do you just need generalised information to get the insights you need? If detail is important, you’re going to have to divulge details about yourself to get it. Weigh up the outcomes and find a balance.
Be specific when writing up the agreement. Are all parties going to share raw results or a generalisation of the data? Perhaps you only want to share results on specific parts of the survey, like the Training Resources section or Competency Development. It’s important that everyone is clear on what they need to provide and what they can expect to receive.
You also need a confidentiality agreement that stipulates what each party is allowed to do with the data so you feel confident that it won’t be shared externally or used in a way you’re not comfortable with.
Now it’s time to exchange results. Depending on what has been agreed, this is most likely going to be through a phone call or an email. A phone call might be the best choice - you can exchange at the same time and not stress about sending an email when you might not get a response back.
Over time you may feel more comfortable about sharing more information with each other, and keep in mind that benchmarking should be a long-term relationship with the other RTO.
When you receive the results, go over it as a team. Have everyone speculate why your RTO’s figures differ from those on the other provider’s results. There’s no science to this, and figuring out will take some creativity. Dig deep and ask specific questions:
Be conscious of the differences between your RTO and your benchmarking partner. With every result, document how your organisation meets the learners’ needs and how the other provider meets its students’ needs. Reflect on how these factors will impact the survey scores.
You should then visualise your results against your benchmarks, mapping them against previous years’ results to see areas where you show a continuous decline or a spike in improvement. Trade Training Group’s Indicator Report shows how they’re tracking against the rest of Victoria while reflecting on their results in past years.
Now that you’ve identified both your flaws and triumphs, it’s time to get an action plan together.
This needs to be a team effort. Get input from your trainers, administrators, and managers about how you can improve in each area. It’s often those closest to the situation who can see the issues in the way that things are being run.
Asana is a great tool for tracking continuous improvement projects—check out this guide on using Asana to manage your RTO’s Quality Goals.
Benchmarking shows ASQA and your learners that you’re serious about continuous quality improvement. It’s also a great opportunity to develop ongoing relationships with other organisations and work together to improve the experience for your learners— but many RTOs see it only as a necessary chore.
Your quality indicators are how you gauge how well you’re meeting your client’s needs. By benchmarking, you’re able to develop strong relationships with other industry providers and work together to improve your training and assessment.
It’s a win-win.
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