Paul Eldridge: The joy of learning

by BN20 Sep 2013

With the Diploma behind them and the industry taking some time to recoup after the rush to the MFAA’s educational deadline, brokers may not want to see the inside of the classroom for some time.

Perhaps surprisingly, Intellitrain’s Paul Eldridge doesn’t blame them. “Let me start off by saying that this industry, in a lot of cases, has not done training very well.”
Eldridge said he doesn’t necessarily mean franchises and aggregators are falling down on their in-house PD training. Rather, he said, most broking groups are putting a high degree of effort into their educational offerings, and delivering value to their brokers. Specifically, Eldridge feels the industry has fallen down on the way it has delivered qualifications such as Cert IVs and diplomas.
“Most people in the industry will know we’ve seen two waves of education,” he said. “The first being the requirement for the Cert IV and the second being the requirement to upgrade that qualification to the Diploma. If we take justification/reasons off the table for a minute and just look at the outcomes for the industry from an observational standpoint, RTOs competed for enrolments in a captive market leading to massive (and unsustainable) price reductions, course delivery time frames were severely reduced [and] education was promoted with a ‘big stick’, ‘you must do it’ [approach] rather than ‘what will you gain from it’ approach.”
Eldridge argued the industry has placed more value on “holding the piece of paper” than on the new skills a qualification can deliver. “When we have a situation where the industry is prepared to accept a five-day Cert IV course where the participants all sit down on the Friday and do the assessments together and then receive their ‘pre-printed’ Certificates, something is clearly wrong.”
So, is Eldridge actually advocating longer course times and higher delivery costs? “Yes, that’s exactly what I am saying. How can we see a single mum who is wanting to become a Bookkeeper be prepared to take two to three months’ study time and pay up to $4,000 to invest in her education to learn what she needs to know to work as an independent bookkeeper, but in this industry, we want to pay less than half that and want it done in a week?”
In fact, Eldridge believes it’s insulting to practising brokers to imply someone new to the industry could learn the skills they need to operate by taking a five-day course.
“A proper qualification says you have undertaken a level of study and gained a benchmarked set of skills and competencies that is nationally recognised. We have to stop trying to push people through in ridiculously short time-frames at ridiculously low course prices,” he said.
It may seem an odd position, given that Eldridge’s own RTO has operated on a model of keeping fees low and delivering in short timeframes. He said this has come as a result of competitive pressures from other RTOs.
“We have had to sacrifice the amount of training days in the classroom in order to compete with the cut-price RTOs in the market. It’s been really frustrating for us seeing the behaviour of some RTOs who seem to be only interested in getting as many ‘bums on seats’ as they can and from my perspective don’t seem to have the same commitment to the student experience – nor to the industry as a whole for that matter.”
But Eldridge argued that Intellitrain “never sacrificed our integrity” in cutting down its course times, instead opting for learning outside the classroom setting.
“You know, you look at our Cert IV program and you see it’s three days and people might wonder, ‘Well, isn’t that insufficient?’ But that is just the physical classroom component, targeting the key aspects of the course.
“The reality is all of our programs are blended so the majority of the training actually comes from online self-paced and online instructor-led webinars and webtutes, plus interactive e-learning modules. So you don’t get the Cert IV after three days,” Eldridge said.
But to increase the quality of education, RTOs will have to walk a tightrope. Longer course times mean higher delivery fees. This is where Eldridge has said Intellitrain has found a solution to keep training affordable while increasing quality. 
“I think a game-changer for us is we have secured VET Fee Help. We’re the first in this industry to do so,” he said.
VET Fee Help, Eldridge explained, is essentially a “study now, pay later” option funded by the Federal Government.
“Essentially it’s the same as HECS at a Uni level, where you pay off the student loan once you earn over a certain threshold. If you never earn over that threshold you never pay it back,” he said.
Eldridge said the move would help benefit several categories of brokers. For new entrants to the industry, it would mean a pathway into broking without the barrier of upfront education costs. It would also mean new entrants receive a better quality of education, with a Cert IV program running over four weeks, including 10 days of classroom time and live webinars.
“This means we can really give the students a solid foundation, which includes running through numerous lending scenarios so they won’t just leave us with technical knowledge. They will have had time to run through client interviews, plural – we’re going to do at least five of them.” 
The development would also mean a pathway for brokers who chose not to do the Diploma upgrade in the first place, Eldridge said.
“As per our new Cert IV program, our new Diploma upgrade program will have at least six classroom days and be spread over a number of months. They won’t be consecutive days so brokers don’t lose too much time out of their business but the course is also not so condensed that they are rushed through. We will have time to really explore.”
And Eldridge believes the option of VET Fee Help will also make continuing education appealing even to brokers who already obtained their Diploma. For brokers looking to diversify, Eldridge said the RTO will offer a Diploma of Financial Planning delivered in a classroom over a six-month period.
“In a way it takes much of the risk out of diversifying because you get to do the education and try it all without having spent anything up front. You also get the tax benefits because even though ‘Tony’ or ‘Kev’ in Canberra has paid for their Diploma, the broker can still claim self-education expenses in the year incurred. Hopefully, by the time you come to pay for it out of your PAYG, the increase in income to you more than offsets the extra bit coming out in tax,” he said.
With increased cost no longer an object, Eldridge said he hopes more brokers will see the appeal of continuing their education.
“If we can now take money off the table, there is no upfront study cost, then it means brokers can attend the program they really want to attend. Why wouldn’t you want to go to a program where you learn how to increase your revenue?”