We live in a world that's filled with distraction after distraction; changing faster than ever before but with more technology and productivity tools at our fingertips than ever before; and yet, one of the most common frustrations facing anyone working in RTO Land is overwhelm.

There’s too much to do and not enough time to do it.  We’re constantly feeling ‘on’ all the time, never being able to switch off or to be uncontactable because we’re always available via those dreaded smartphones and emails, even when we’re sick or on holiday.

And these devices and technology were actually supposed to help us; they were supposed to make our lives easier, and in some ways they have and some ways have only added to the level of distraction we feel.  We can get answers from people quicker than ever before (without having to make a phone call), make changes to documents more easily, and provide information to more than one person at a time.

Despite these advancements, one of the biggest challenges I believe facing anyone, not just those working in VET, is the ability to STOP and breathe, to turn off the distractions so you stop immediately reacting to things.

And operating in that reactive environment is all too common for anyone working in VET.  Because when I tell people the first thing they need to do is STOP, the next sentence is, ‘I don’t have time to stop’.  To which my response is, ‘how’s that working for you?’

The answer is: it is NOT!

When we just keep running and band-aiding and firefighting every single day, we are spending up lots of energy but actually getting nowhere.

Result: Confusion, frustration, overwhelm, mistakes, forgetfulness which eventually leads to thoughts, words and actions which demonstrate you’re OVER working in VET.

And we find that such a shame because that’s a horrible place for anyone to be in… going to work every day, feeling like you’re getting nowhere, stressed and unfulfilled.  Especially for people whose passion is to make a difference and help people through the vehicle of training.

But unfortunately, we see too many people looking and feeling like this, as we are sure you probably have to.  They are the ones at conferences looking frazzled and blaming everything and everyone for what’s happening at their RTO.  And yes, sometimes external factors create challenges for us.

And it’s not just those working in RTO Land who are suffering from overwhelm and burnout.  Look at any business book coming out or the multitude of blogs and the common themes are ways to stop, how to turn off the distractions, less is more, why managing mental health is critical etc.  And all of this is true and there are simple strategies to address these issues, but we have to first want to change our mindset and behaviours; we have to believe stopping will be beneficial.

But in my experience, RTO personnel are in denial about what’s really causing the frustration and overwhelm.  Most of the time, in fact, we have created bad behaviours and circumstances because we haven’t addressed things when we should have, we haven’t put in place simple systems and we haven’t role modelled the positive and productive behaviour for our team.

Think about the frustrations you have with your RTO role; be it Owner, CEO, Manager, Compliance, Trainer or Administration.  I bet you’d tell me things like:

  • I don’t have enough students.
    But when was the last time you truly determined your ideal student and developed a marketing strategy to reach this target market; or do you believe everyone is your ideal student because they are not?
  • I don’t have enough time to deliver training and mark assessments.
    But when was the last time you actually sat down with your RTO Manager and talked about what is a realistic workload, and how this might be managed?  Many years ago, 100 students per trainer may have been a reasonable student: trainer ratio but is it now?  And by the way, we don’t ever think it was ‘reasonable’ and delivered results that worked but we keep getting told this is ‘best practice’… really?
  • I’m struggling to pay the bills.
    But when was the last time you developed an Annual Business Plan which identified your intent for the year and how you will achieve your desired financial targets or are you working on an ‘if I build it and provide ‘quality training’, they will come? Maybe you’re unfamiliar with the true costs of running a business because you believe that’s the Accountant’s job (which it isn’t).

And I could go on because I hear these stories every single day.  And yes, working in a regulated environment is certainly challenging and can be frustrating; but as I’ve always said ‘if you don’t like compliance and don’t like change, then don’t work for an RTO or be one because that’s the given space you will always operate.  If you’re passionate about training and don’t like the rules, then please go and deliver fantastic professional development and rediscover your training passion.

I’m also seeing many RTOs operating in a state of overwhelm because they haven’t stopped in a really long time to see if there can be a better way to do things, or they are in denial about how much the training sector as a whole has been disrupted.

People aren’t coming to as many face to face workshops anymore.  They don’t always want to invest in a 12-month qualification because that’s too much of a long term commitment in this age of short term focus.  Instead, individuals want short sharp training which helps them get a job, keep their job or get a better job; and businesses want training that will actually help improve the productivity of their employees in a way they can quickly see and measure.

We also have to take some responsibility for embracing the good things in our role, as well as those which we don’t like doing because this is the reality of work.  But instead, too many people avoid, procrastinate and abdicate this responsibility which adds to the feeling of overwhelm as you get further and further behind.  And this is when we can lose our passion for training because we haven’t been willing to embrace the ‘not so good’ stuff in our role.

If you run the RTO, then you have to be on top of the financial numbers so you run a profitable business instead of an expensive hobby.

If you’re a trainer, then setting up the room, providing student support and marking assessments is all part of the gig, not just delivering the fun training in the room.

If you’re responsible for compliance, then internal audits should be happening each month, not just in time for re-registration.

If you’re in admin, then it does mean answering the phone and daily data entry.

Is it time to stop?

Activity, busyness and multitasking should not be worn as badges of honour – they are instead the noose around our necks.  Instead of complaining about this in silence or aloud, it’s time to do something different.

So are you willing to STOP, even for 15 minutes a day, to see if what you’re really doing is the most important thing you should be doing; or just a task which you think needs to be done?

So are you ready to have a conversation with your owner or supervisor to get back some balance and perspective which matches the true capacity and capability of you and the role?

It’s time to STOP, to truly see what’s really working and what’s not in your RTO, and to develop simple (and profitable) strategies which not only achieve the vision of your RTO; but ensure your RTO is a fun place to work.  Otherwise, what’s the point?

Finally, remember: If nothing changes, nothing changes.

The choice to take the next step is entirely up to you.

Published 25 February 2020

What do you think?

Join the discussion of this and other Challenges at the VET PD Group – Community of Practice.

About the Author:

Tamara Simon is a Dedicated RTO Business Coach and Principal of Take Another Look.

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