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Regulatory body confirms aged care training top priority

Ensuring the quality of aged care training has been made a priority by the new national regulator of the vocational education and training sector, reports Natasha Egan

From January, the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) will scrutinise registered training organisations (RTOs) when they apply to register, renew or amend courses that include aged care qualifications.

ASQA confirmed it is already investigating one RTO and is gathering further information to determine if a sector-wide audit is required.

“ASQA will treat the aged care qualifications as potentially high risk from January 1, 2012,” said a spokesperson.

This means all organisations applying for initial aged care training registration will be site audited at the time of registration and again a year later. All RTOs that offer aged care qualifications will be audited when applying to renew their registration.

If an RTO requests to add aged care qualifications to their schedule, they will need to provide training and assessment criteria plus training materials.

Minister for Ageing Mark Butler has said on a number of occasions since the release of the Productivity Commission’s report that training issues could likely be addressed ahead of broader sector reform.

The highly variable quality of Certificates III and IV training was raised repeatedly during the commission’s public hearings, with the issue canvassed extensively in its final report.

Butler said that the government requested ASQA give priority to examining issues in aged care training prior to a full response to the PC's report. “A full review of aged care training providers will be considered as part of the government's formal response to the PC's recommendations,” he said.

As part of its prioritisation, ASQA is contacting all its RTOs that offer aged care qualifications. It is seeking all course-related information including enrolment and completion data for this year and projected numbers for next year.

“This information will provide background and scope of a possible strategic audit of the sector,” said the spokesperson.

Further, ASQA said it was in talks with DoHA to work together and share information to improve aged care training delivery. “ASQA will also contact the Aged Care Standards and Accreditation Agency to develop a similar approach to examining the quality in the sector,” it said.

On the issue of complaints, the spokesperson said ASQA would continue its “risk-focused approach” to aged care training provision and monitoring of standards.

“ASQA responds rigorously to issues and complaints that are made about the aged care sector and is currently undertaking a major audit of a national aged care RTO.”

Elsewhere, the CEO of the Australian Council for Private Education and Training (ACPET), Claire Field, said her organisation was aware and supportive of the government and ASQA’s focus on aged care training.

“We have been actively involved in discussions with the federal government and ASQA on ways to strengthen quality in aged care training,” Field said.

This is despite there being no concerns raised by regulators, students or institutions regarding quality in aged care training amongst ACPET’s membership, Field said.

On ensuring a high quality of training, Field said ACPET introduced a new benchmark for quality amongst its members earlier this year. That includes tougher membership standards and codes of practice and risk assessments to all new and renewal applications, she said.

However, the CEO of Community Services and Health Industry Skills Council (CS&HISC), Rod Cooke, said ensuring quality and consistency of training in aged care was a shared responsibility.

Cooke said a collaborative approach involving all stakeholders was needed to guarantee enough qualified workers to meet the increasing demand for aged care.

“While poor training is a problem for VET regulation and must be addressed in itself, the way employers engage recognised training and provide an environment for skill development must also be addressed as part of improving careers and retention,” Cooke said.

Further, he said CS&HISC had a role to play in raising quality through continuous review of competency standards, such as making work placement a mandatory part of the assessment criteria. He said this would require industry support and greater involvement from employers and workplace supervisors.

“With industry clearly stating their concerns through the Productivity Commission’s report and our own 2011 environmental scan identifying the fast-tracking as an industry concern, it would seem that there is significant support for such changes,” Cooke said.

ASQA took over national regulating duties of the VET sector on July 1. The authority is charged with ensuring nationally approved quality standards of courses and RTOs are met.

States and territories changed their legislation to hand regulatory powers to ASQA, with the exception of Victoria and Western Australia.

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