The jig is up for rogue training schemes
Rogue training organisations who break the rules by using job ads to lure unemployed people into state-funded courses could face steeper penalties after a three-month inquiry.
The State Government launched an independent probe in August after a Sunday Mail investigation revealed jobseekers were being funnelled into "free" taxpayer-funded training courses after responding to advertisements for entry-level jobs, such as factory work.
Jobseekers told the newspaper the job offers would dry up after they completed the free course, which could earn training organisations up to $60,000 or more in state subsidies per course delivered depending on the number of enrolments.
Headed by Queensland's Training Ombudsman, the inquiry found no unlawful activity, but recommended the Government consider tougher penalties for contractual breaches by training organisations eligible for the funding through the state's Skills Assure supplier system, which includes the Government's Certificate 3 Guarantee program.
Approved organisations receive state funding for each person who attends one of the courses.
Training firms are banned in Queensland from using third-party arrangements to market courses and cannot receive kickbacks for referrals into the state-funded Certificate 3 courses from contracted companies, such as job recruiters.
The inquiry revealed the Department of Small Business and Training was challenged by a lack of statutory powers to compel the production of documents and to conduct investigations.
It found the majority of contracted training organisations able to tap into state funding had denied any relationship with third parties identified by the department and "further investigations have been ongoing."
"It is noted that despite many allegations (training organisations) have contractual arrangements with recruitment companies where they pay for student referrals, the existence of any such arrangement has not yet been proven during investigation undertaken to date by either the department or (the Queensland Training Ombudsman)," the report found.
The inquiry, released during Estimates hearings in State Parliament today, recommended the Government consider steeper penalties and sanctions for breaches in the contract provisions.
It suggested the state should have the ability to take action against individuals over breaches.
This could involve new laws introducing enforceable standards of conduct and service.
Training Minister Di Farmer said the Government had accepted five of the inquiry's recommendations in full and a sixth recommendation in principal.
She said it would review penalties for noncompliance, act quickly to prevent people being misled and support a new state vocational education and training forum, which will be asked to improve how students' complaints are handled between the various regulatory bodies.
"Someone who is looking for a job shouldn't have to worry about being scammed by a dodgy training provider," Ms Farmer said.
"This is all about cracking down on those doing the wrong thing so people can feel confident that when they apply for a job that the position exists.
"While the Ombudsman's review did not find any evidence of breaches of legislation by Queensland recruitment companies or training providers, investigations are ongoing, and we want to ensure we have the strongest deterrents in place.
"We upgraded compliance monitoring in July 2020 with the introduction of the Skills Assure initiative for registered training organisations."
Ms Farmer said it had also introduced additional criteria for new training provider applications and strengthened compliance measures to ensure funding goes to quality training providers.
Of 10 training operators investigated during the inquiry from 21 complaints looked at as part of the review, one investigation has been finalised. The rest remain under investigation.
One training organisation has so far had its agreement terminated, three have been sanctioned and will be forced to stop taking enrolments; with two more sanctions imminent, three have been issued show cause notices, with a further two show cause notices to come and two forensic investigations are underway.
Another training organisation has been directed to terminate a third party agreement with a recruitment company.
The inquiry also criticised the department for not acting faster when the amount of funding skyrocketed for some courses, such as the Certificate 3 in Food Processing.
While the Government recently capped funding for the course and several others following The Sunday Mail's investigation, the inquiry found "it should have been identified as a high risk qualification and action taken much earlier."
The newspaper revealed in September that taxpayer-funded subsidies for the Food Processing course had blown out from $3.6 million in 2017-18 to $15.4 million in 2019-20.
Dozens of job advertisements were appearing during the COVID-19 job crisis advertising food processing jobs around Brisbane, with applicants then referred to training courses they were told they would need to complete to become eligible.
One recruiter even falsely claimed it was a legal requirement to work in a food factory.
The inquiry also took aim at the "referral roundabout" complainants were forced into where they were bounced from one agency to another.
It found a single entity should take responsibility for dealing with complainants. The department should "consider the timeliness of actions regarding alleged contract breaches" and "take decisive action in relation to funding qualification it identifies as high risk."
Originally published as The jig is up for rogue training schemes