Tips for preparing for an audit

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The audit process can often feel quite overwhelming for RTOs, and if it’s your first time, you may not know where to start. In this article, Shashi Hodge, Director of RTO Advice Group, explains the audit process and discusses documentation requirements.

Tips for preparing for an audit

RTO: I have just received notice of my audit date. What are the first steps I should take to begin preparing for the audit?

Ideally, you should have been preparing for your audit for some time.  Generally, a good place to start is to conduct an internal audit against the standards you are being audited on (if you haven’t already done so) to make sure that you have the evidence required, available for the audit.

The scope of the audit (the standards on which you will be audited) depends on the type of audit you are having.

If it is an initial registration audit (to become an RTO) then you should expect to be audited on all the standards and to have to demonstrate your ability to comply with the VET Quality Framework (SNRs) or the Australian Quality Training Framework (whichever is applicable). In Victoria and if you are registering with the VRQA, then you will also need to demonstrate compliance with the VRQA Guidelines for VET Providers.

If you having a re-registration audit, usually you will be audited on most standards but it depends on the level of risk assigned to your RTO by the registering body.   Some of the standards may not be audited in a re-registration audit, but prepare as if you were being audited on everything.

If you are having an audit for extension to scope, the audit scope will usually be much smaller. An extension to scope audit usually focuses on the details surrounding the course you are wishing to add to scope. That means that you should have everything ready particular to the course you are adding such as the training and assessment strategies and materials, staff, pre-enrolment information, and industry consultation records.   Sometimes you may also be audited against some areas of operation that are not purely about course delivery such as continuous improvement, national recognition, marketing, client services or transition of training packages and accredited courses.

RTO: What should I check for when I do an internal audit?

The purpose of this process is to help you think about how you comply with each standard (or guideline) and to gather the evidence that you have to demonstrate compliance.  This means you should go through each of the standards (from the SNRs, AQTF and/or VRQA Guidelines) and make a list of the evidence that shows how you meet the standard.  You may also like to write down a summary of how you comply so you have it ready for the auditor. Sometimes, it can be useful to print (or organise electronically) folders for each standard so that it is easily accessible during the audit.   Remember when you go through this process to take a critical eye.  Read the standard again, make sure you understand what it is requiring and consider the evidence you have.  Does the evidence you have clearly demonstrate compliance with the standard?

RTO: What sort of documents should I have available?

You need to have all the documents and records available at audit that demonstrate how your organisation complies with the standards. For initial or re-registration audits, a sampling approach is usually taken to the qualifications, course and units of competency you have on scope.  However, usually you do not know prior to the audit day, which qualifications or courses will be focused on so you need to make sure you have everything ready for all your programs.

For each program you should have:

  • A Training and Assessment Strategy
  •  Industry Consultation records
  • Trainer/Assessor files with signed resumes, certified qualifications and skills matrices. Your skills matrices should demonstrate vocational competency against each unit, going to at least element  level.
  •  Pre-enrolment information which may include a student handbook plus detailed information about the course to allow a person to make an informed decision about enrolment into the program
  • A validation and moderation schedule that clearly shows when each unit will be moderated and validated and by who
  •  Training and assessment materials including relevant session plans, learner guides, assessment tasks, recording tools, benchmarking guides and mapping.
  •  An approach to identifying and supporting language, literacy and numeracy requirements of students.

You should also have:

  •  Detailed RTO Policies and procedures that comply with the standards along with relevant forms and systems in place.  If you are an existing RTO, the auditor will want to see that your records demonstrate that you operate in accordance with your own policies and procedures.
  • An AVETMISS-compliant student management system. If you are an existing RTO, you will need to demonstrate that students are entered correctly onto the database.
  • Compliant qualifications, statements of attainment and records of results. Make sure these follow the guidelines provided by the AQF released in 2011.
  • Record management systems which may include clear guidelines that are followed on maintaining physical student and staff files, an approach to electronic file and record management that is followed, version control etc.
  • An approach to identifying the needs of your learners.
  • Evidence of collecting and reporting quality indicator data.

Remember (!) the above list is not exhaustive and you should go back to the standards to check that you have everything to demonstrate compliance.  The article above gives you a guide to work from.

RTO: It’s a week away from my RTO’s audit, what should I be doing?

You should make sure that you have received an audit agenda from the auditor which will outline the way and order in which the audit will be conducted.  Some auditors send the agenda out only upon request, automatically a week before, and some the day before the audit.  The agenda will help you make sure that you know what will be covered and help you double check that you have everything available that you need.

Once you have the agenda, run through it and make sure you know the sorts of evidence you will use and refer to in each section of the agenda.

It is also a good idea to make sure that other staff know that an audit will be being conducted and on what date so they can make themselves available to assist if needed.

RTO: What happens on the day of the audit?

The order in which an RTO audit is conducted can vary from auditor to auditor and the same goes for the auditor’s approach and style. However the principles for conducting an audit are the same across the board and each auditor is there to check your compliance with the same framework (although different audits may focus on different standards, qualifications, staff etc).

An audit will usually commence with an opening meeting where the auditor will take you through the day’s proceedings and confirm the arrangements for the audit. Usually during this meeting you will be given the opportunity to give some background information about your RTO.

After the opening meeting the audit will commence and the auditor will begin asking you questions and asking you to provide evidence that supports each standard. Usually the auditor will be taking notes as they go of the conversations they have with you and the evidence that you present. Audits may not run through from one standard to the next.   Some standards cross-reference to other standards so auditors may collect evidence for standards out of chronological order.  If you are not sure where they are up to in relation to the standards, just ask.

If you don’t have evidence in the audit room with you that you need throughout the day, there will usually be some opportunities to go and find the evidence to present to the auditor. However, audits are usually a jam-packed day with lots to cover and the auditor will need the key person to be readily available to answer questions and to help keep the audit progressing.  For this reason, it is a good idea to have helpers available who can go and find documents/ evidence and bring them to the audit room for you.

Usually, but depending on the auditor, you will get feedback along the way.  Take notes as you go of the feedback you are given by the auditor because not everything will be written in the report and feedback during an audit can be used to help you improve.

At the end of the audit, there will usually be a closing meeting.  The closing meeting is used by the auditor to give you formal advice about their audit findings against each standard.  It is not an opportunity for you to present new evidence as the audit has now concluded.  You should make sure you understand the findings and may ask questions however usually the findings will be made very clear in the written report.

RTO: When will I receive my RTO audit report and what will it tell me?

The timeline by which you will receive your audit report varies from auditor to auditor and regulator to regulator, however it can usually be expected within 4 – 14 days of the audit occurring.

The audit report will outline the findings (whether compliant or not-compliant) against each standard audited and provide the reasons for the finding.   Reports can be brief and will not list all the evidence provided but rather it is used for the auditor to concisely summarise findings, any issues identified and rectifications to be made.

RTO: I’ve had my audit and non-compliances were identified… now what?

When non-compliances are identified you will usually be given a period of time to rectify the non-compliances, however in some instances it may mean that your application (if applicable) may be rejected.  For example if you have critical non-compliances for an extension to scope application or an initial registration, this may mean your application is rejected and you need to start again.

If you are given the opportunity to rectify, the severity of your non-compliances will determine the actions you need to take.  You may need to put in place and implement a plan to rectify the non-compliances and keep internal records of this for the next time you are audited, you may need to rectify the issues and provide evidence to the regulator within a certain period of time, or you may need to rectify and demonstrate this at another on-site audit.  The letter you receive from the regulator will advise you of this.

If rectifications are required and you do need to demonstrate these to the regulator, you are usually given a short period of time in which to respond.  So, if you know what the issues are at the end of the audit, don’t wait for your report and the letter from the regulator, get fixing quickly so you have time to fix everything required by the due date!

RTO: I’ve put in my rectifications, then what happens?

If you’ve had to submit rectifications, this is your second chance to demonstrate compliance.  From the information you supply in your rectifications, the regulator will make a final decision about your registration / application.  I have seen this decision making period take a considerable amount of time and I’ve also seen rapid responses from the regulator.  Advice about rectification decisions are advised in writing.

I hope the information provided in part 1 and 2 of this article have been useful in helping you prepare for your audits.

RTO Advice Services offers a range of services in relation to RTO compliance and auditing including conducting internal audits, helping prepare for external audits and also responding to rectification requirements, so please contact us should you require any assistance for your next RTO audit.

If you think there is anything I have left out of these articles or have any comments or feedback I would love to hear from you at shodge@rtoadvice.com.au

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