8 ways RTOs can respond to the Coronavirus

Posted on Mar 26, 2020

RTOs will need to focus on the health and well-being of their staff, families and clients while continuing to provide high-quality service and maintain a sense of calm and balance.

The Coronavirus (Covid-19) situation is constantly changing and we need to take positive action in this unprecedented and challenging time. RTOs will need to focus on the health and well-being of their staff, families and clients while continuing to provide high-quality service and maintain a sense of calm and balance.

The Australian Government Department of Health is releasing official updates that can help you make informed decisions that help limit the spread of the virus in RTOs. Keeping everyone safe and healthy in the classroom is of paramount importance while aiming to minimise any disruption to the organisation and its day-to-day operations. Of course, staff and students will be concerned about the face-to-face training required to retain current licences, fulfil job roles, and earn an income. 

If you do decide to remain open and offer classroom-based learning, then you will need to follow a number of guidelines set out by the Government to keep the environment safe. These are necessary precautions that will need to be reviewed daily, in line with the latest official updates. 

Before each learning session:

  • Staff to thoroughly clean the training environment

  • Kitchen and utensils to be cleaned appropriately

  • Door handles to be cleaned regularly 

  • Ensure class sizes are small groups to allow for necessary distance

  • Consistently use antibacterial spray.

Before learning session attendance:

  • Staff and students should not attend courses if they feel unwell the evening before, or on the morning of the session

  • RTOs must be notified of absences in order to take corrective actions

  • Refer to official advice to understand symptoms

  • Avoid courses where there has been travel in the previous 14 days followed by feeling unwell. 

On the day of the learning session:

  • Staff and students to bring own pens and personal equipment

  • RTO to provide training materials in new, unused condition

  • Everyone to observe basic hygiene etiquette

  • Cough or sneeze into elbow, sleeve or tissue (immediately dispose of the tissue in bins provided and wash hands thoroughly with soap)

  • Avoid shaking hands and making physical contact with other participants

  • Keep at a sensible distance at all times while observing other peoples’ personal space

  • When conducting performance activities, wash hands thoroughly with soap and avoid touching faces, eyes, mouths and noses until the session is completed – then wash hands thoroughly again

  • Do not eat or drink during practical sessions

  • Equipment and other resources to be appropriately cleaned before each use.

RTOs should be conscious that the current climate could call for swift action in relation to classroom-based learning. Being prepared for these changes will help protect the organisation and reassure staff and students during their training and learning experiences. If you have the opportunity to look at alternative arrangements, then the following eight methods will help you limit the spread of Coronavirus in RTOs. 

  1. Work from home

Current recommendations mean isolation and working from home are the best options that can be taken to reduce the spread of the virus. Where possible, RTOs can help the world recover by asking staff to stay at home and complete their work duties there. Digital technology means we are well connected and can similarly perform a number of activities, but we must also consider the key differences between workplaces and working from home. 

Communication requirements:

  • All businesses need effective communication to succeed

  • At home, you will need to be available through a range of devices and methods, for example, mobile phones (you may need to exchange numbers), video conferencing apps (e.g. Google Meet), email, messaging apps (e.g. Slack), etc. 

  • Consistently and regularly catch up with staff members to assess priorities and progress, e.g. a new 10-minute update in the morning to check everyone is moving in the right direction.

Benefits of a routine:

  • Keep to your regular work routine where possible, e.g. start times, breaks, moving away from the desk, etc. 

  • Hours and structure will help you stay productive and promote positive mental health

  • Immune systems can struggle if you drastically change your waking hours, e.g. work from 9 pm - 5 am. 

Equipment needs:

  • Check that everyone working from home has the required tools and equipment to complete their job and tasks (basics include a phone, computer, and internet connection)

  • Identify what needs to be taken home from the workplace with a full inventory completed for a range of activities

  • Ensure you have access to the RTO’s resource library and cloud-based information (where possible). 

Health and safety at home:

  • Conduct a risk assessment in your own home to identify potential hazards and keep everyone safe, e.g. remove trip hazards

  • Consider your workspace carefully so that it is safe and ergonomic (a separate workspace also allows for productivity and being able to switch off after working hours)

  • Ensure you are taking recommended breaks and getting a change of scenery (where possible).


  • Procrastination is the enemy of working from home, motivation levels can drop and you may find yourself wandering without the watchful eye of a manager or supervisor

  • You can be vigilant and stay focused – set strict work hours, use apps that block access to entertaining, non-work-related websites, and understand your work abilities with the radio or television playing. 


  1. Switch to e-learning

There is an increased need for social distancing. An alternative to physical teaching is moving to an online training approach with readily available Learning Management Systems (LMS) and e-learning packages. It may be that your RTO already offers this learning alternative, but now is the time to make the most of it. You can temporarily replace physical training where possible, refreshing staff knowledge on its usage and outlining interaction requirements. Plan to have everyone on the same page regarding e-learning module set-up and assessment, with a review process to check that the process is working and effective. 

  1. Reschedule classes

You can plan for reduced group sizes and likely cancellations as stopping classroom-based learning seems essential to prevent the spread of the virus. RTO staff should work together to create a strategy to deal with this, clearly identifying what needs to be done, by when, and the person(s) responsible. Clearly communicate the new schedule to those impacted and review as required, even if staff numbers decline, group numbers should stay low. 

  1. Make the most of spare time

Remember when we didn’t have time to get everything done on our to-do lists? If business is affected, chance is you may have acquired some extra time on your hands. Everyone can make use of this opportunity effectively to ensure the RTO is being well maintained and energised. Regular team meetings and updates can advise staff on the best use of their time, trainers can work on their personal development, and RTOs’ day-to-day running can be reviewed and enhanced where possible. 

  1. Keep learners in the loop

Anxiety and worry are going to be prevalent for everyone. Learners may be concerned about the future of their training and qualifications. Emails are an excellent form of communication to keep students updated but also regularly posting on a specific status page is even better. This means that learners can access real-time updates on their education, which can be implemented on your website with simple text showing recent developments. Social media can also be a platform for communication with neutral and helpful content being shared. 

  1. Look at the facts, figures and statistics

We have access to a huge amount of information. Following Government guidelines on Coronavirus and keeping up-to-date with the news is going to help you think ahead. However, you can also take a closer look at specific RTO statistics. You may notice a high rate of course cancellations, fewer prospective students signing up, or website traffic may be down. Being able to highlight these trends creates an early warning sign that you need to start planning ahead. 

  1. Face the numbers

Taking stock of finances at this point is going to be beneficial. RTOs that provide short courses might be witnessing a high level of cancellations, and if you’re managing finances then you will need to analyse these numbers closely. Being prepared here means acknowledging how the business can survive a sustained loss of income, then thinking of contingency plans to protect the RTO and its staff as best as possible. Check to see if there are loans or changes in payment schedules that are government-issued, and be realistic. If you don’t face it now, it will only catch you out down the road. 

  1. Take the extra step

Be kind. Don’t overbuy resources and items at the expense of others. Stay respectful and understand that everyone is dealing with this challenging situation. Take positive action wherever possible so we can reduce the impact of the virus and get back on with our lives. Remember the human element in all this. Yes, we are keeping our distance, but reaching out to others online or by the phone can help maintain a sense of support and community. 

Staying positive

RTOs shouldn’t feel alone. Many of us are anxious about the future and these unusual times can bring unforeseen difficulties. Seek support, make contact, ask questions, and know there are others in your position that can provide advice and encouragement. Staying positive is the core ingredient in coping with the Coronavirus crisis. Look for good news and foster a sense of social cohesion by creating small moments of happiness for staff members and learners, and helping to reduce levels of stress and worry. Remind people of the good in the world during these strange and isolating times, and above all, stay safe and healthy.