Regional and Specialist Training Fund

The Regional and Specialist Training Fund (RSTF) is a targeted funding stream that supports training for specific skills in regional and specialist areas that are not being met by the current training market.

The fund meets the needs of:

  • Localised employer needs in regional Victoria (Regional)
  • Specialised occupations of economic significance to Victoria (Specialist)
  • Government workforce priorities (Specialist).

The fund gives industry increased confidence in the training and TAFE system to respond to the needs of regional industries. Specialised industries of economic significance to Victoria can be supported to grow through access to a skilled workforce.

The objectives of RSTF are to:

  • Assist rural and regional communities to access training that meets their local industry needs
  • Address place-based and occupation specific barriers to training that are significant to specific localities or industries/occupations within Victoria
  • Achieve parity of training out comes for regional and metropolitan Victoria
  • Greater alignment between workforce requirements and training needs across the state.

Eligibility 

All Victorian training providers that hold a current Skills First VET Funding Contract are eligible to apply. The RSTF grant guidelines can be found here.

RSTF grant guidelines  (pdf - 1.18mb)

Duration 

Funded projects are expected to be completed within 24 months of a grant being awarded.

Expression of Interest (EOI)

Information Sessions

The department scheduled a range of 60-minute information sessions. The sessions have now been delivered, however a video recording of the RSTF Information session can be found here. 

 
Audio transcript

LECTURER:
OK, we'll get started, and I'll just let everyone know that I am recording this session. But when we get to the actual questions, I'll turn off the recording at that point. We will use this recording to go up onto the website for people who were unable to participate either on Friday or today. I'd like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners, our information session is being held on the lands of the Wurundjeri people. I wish to acknowledge them as the traditional owners recognising their continuing connection to land, water and community. I would also like to pay my respects to their elders, past and present, and Aboriginal elders and other communities who may be here today. We'll start with a little bit of housekeeping. So just to assist with the presentation, if people could switch their cameras off at the moment, if you could also keep your microphone on mute, that would be great. And if you have any questions as we're going through at the presentation, please put them into the chat function, because I'll run through the presentation.

Then we'll go to chat. And if there's additional questions, I'll ask you just to pop your hand up. So at the top of the screen, there'll be a little smiley face with a hand raised. If you just hit that button, I'll know that you've got a question that you'd like, asked or answered. So this afternoon, we're going to cover a few things. It'll be what is the regional and specialist training fund? And I will refer to it as RSTF. What does the program fund? Who can apply? Applying for the grant, how we actually assess and what we look for, the budgets, and lessons learned from the evaluation that was undertaken earlier last year, and then what the next steps are if you're interested in applying for a grant. So what is the regional and specialist training fund? It's a targeted funding stream that supports training for key skills in regional and specialist areas that are not being met by the current training market. It specifically addresses thin markets, training that might not attract a large number of students, but are critical to the region or the industry.

It does this by assisting rural and regional communities access training that meets their local industry needs. So there may be a course that's readily available in metropolitan area. However, in the regional area, it's really difficult to get enough students to run a course and make it viable. It can also address place based and occupation barriers to training that is significant to specific localities, industries or occupations within Victoria. And so in that situation, you may have a new business that's moving to one of the regional areas. There's a shortage of skills and there's a need to be able to provide them for local employment. And it also provides greater alignment between workforce requirements and training needs across the state. So you could have a situation where there's a particular industry skill that's required, not a huge number of people employed or who enter that particular industry on an annual basis. However, the skills are critical. So in a nutshell, it enables training for specialist occupations where training activity demanded by industry is small but of high economic value, and the cost of delivering high quality training is unviable at the mainstream subsidized rate.

There's a range of things that the program can fund, and that includes delivery of training, the development of training resources, assessment and training materials, one-off equipment purchases and classroom infrastructure. When you're thinking of those things, though, they all need to link back to a particular qualification or course. And as I mentioned earlier, that is part of a thin market that's in a regional or a specialist area. Generally, the grants are offered over or run over a 24 month period. So if you happen to have a successful application, it would be expected that it would be completed within that 24 month period. Who can apply? It's been designed for Victorian training providers that hold current skills first VET funding contract. So if you've got one of those skills first VET funding contracts, then you can actually apply for the funding. If you don't have a contract, then you would need to look for a partner who does have a contract that you would be able to work with.

Applying for the grants, it's fairly straightforward. There's rolling application so you can put in an application at any time across the year. The applications opened last week on Monday. At the moment, we're asking for expressions of interest. So the process generally is, you go to the the website. And I believe that Tony, at the beginning of the the chat function had actually put the website address in there, URL. If you don't have it, I assume many of you, though, are familiar with the site, (INAUDIBLE) most likely would have registered for these sessions through that. The EOI is fairly straightforward. It shouldn't be any more than two or three pages. The first page is really just information about who you are. And the second page is what you'd like to apply funding for. And so in that, if you think about what the barrier or the problem is or even the opportunity. So giving us a few bullet points on that and then describing what it is that you're proposing, what the solution is, and then what you see the benefits of it being.

And in most instances, it will be linked to employment. So those benefits, what we would be looking for is how many jobs, does it fill skill gaps either in the region or within the state. You can then lodge the application form, as said at any time. We will guarantee, though, if you have applications lodged by the 31st of October, we will have those prioritized for assessment with decisions made by Christmas time or the end to December. So at that point, we would be able to advise whether you've been successful or not. When we receive the application, we actually put it through an assessment process. And there is criteria. There's five things that we look at, and I'll cover that shortly. We then make a recommendation as to whether we feel or consider that the application meets the criteria. And it is then presented to a panel who review it and also look at the recommendation. If it's been approved, we then will actually notify you and let you know. We'll also notify you if it's been unsuccessful and we can provide a bit of feedback, but we will notify you and let you know whether it's been successful.

And if it has contracting for those that have submitted by the end of October, contracting will occur during January and will be in place, and that would align to if there's any delivery that you want to do in the first semester of next year. We'll call a project initiation meeting within a month of the contract signing, and at that meeting will just go over what it is that we have funded you for, what some of the expectations are, reporting requirements, et cetera. And then at the end of the project, we would normally have some sort of touchpoint of the outcomes of the actual project, and there would be an evaluation plan that would be submitted. Now, one of the areas I did miss at the expression of interest when it's actually lodged with this, they will be a department representative that gets in contact with you to speak about the actual proposal and give some initial feedback as to whether it looks like it's meeting the application criteria or not. So the application assessment criteria, as I said, there are five things that we look at.

The first is the industry or the regional needs and impact. So what is the need that you believe your proposal is addressing and what would the impact be? We ask you to provide evidence around what that need is. So it could be that if it was in a regional area, it might be the the local Economic Development Committee have put together a strategic plan for the next five or 10 years, and they've identified a particular need or skill gaps, or it could be that there's been a new large business that's moved into your area, they need skilled workers in an area that currently there isn't provision for training. So just some evidence around that organization and what they need are. The second area that we look at is training, delivery, capability, capacity and the approach. So understanding that these are thin markets and that potentially you may not have trainers with the skills to deliver the training, or you will need subject matter experts if you're going to actually be developing training and assessment materials.

What are you strategies for securing those skills or those resources, if you don't already have them within your organization? The third area is the student attraction and retention. So it is a thin market. How are you actually going to attract students to the training that you want to deliver? And then just as important, when you do attract them and you've got them enrolled, what sort of retention strategies do you have in place and the types of supports that you can provide? The forth is around cost to deliver and value of money and sustainability. So looking at that investment of how much is that that you've requested? And then, you know, what will the outcomes be? What will the economic value be within your community or within the industry? Or it might be across Victoria as a whole, where there might be certain specialist areas that are required. And the sustainability part of it is, the funding is a one off. So what happens after the funding ceases? Are you going to be able to continue delivering?

Has it been a one-off? It might be that we've provided funding to support the purchase of equipment and having that cost basically already covered, then it means that you've got more of a sustainable situation for that particular program. And finally, this is a new one for RSTF. It's an evaluation. So we will provide you with a template for an evaluation plan. And what we ask is that that's completed as part of the application, and evaluation makes you really think about what the objectives are. What does success look like if the project is successful and it enables you to actually collect data and information along the way instead of at the end of a project. For many of the RSTF projects, we would expect the evaluation would include employment outcomes of students. So how many students were employed? Were they actually employed in the area of their study? Is there still a skill shortage or has set skill shortage been addressed? Budgets is always a big one. And so we've provided a template for completing the budget for us and some guidelines there as well.

So we ask that you provide a breakdown of your particular budget, and that would also include any forms of expected revenue or co-contribution. So if your proposal includes delivery, then it's quite likely that you'll receive some funding to support the delivery of programs, but you've actually got a shortfall and that's what you're applying for. So the income would be things like what contribution has government provided you to offset the training, the cost of training? Are there student fees that you've actually or would be collecting as well? And is industry actually contributing anything towards the training? So if it was a business moving into a local area and they are after specific skills, there might be a situation where they actually contribute some funding towards the cost of training. We also request that you provide some evidence around costs associated with cost delivery, particularly if you're looking for equipment. So have you got some quotes? Can you go to a website and do some screenshots of the cost of the type of equipment that you're using?

We also want to know how the course will remain sustainable once the RSTF funding has been fully expended. And also, we consider around that value for money. And that's, you know, value for money for the Victorian public because it's public funds that we're using. Some of the things to note, and they're there at the bottom of the slide is that generally the project management costs shouldn't exceed 20% of the total funding. If it looks like it is getting up around there or higher, then we would definitely want to have a conversation as to why the cost is so high. And that any items where there are over $20,000 that you do include a quote. And also that all the equipment items so ex or excluding GST, if we have any questions around the budget, we will come back and ask for some clarification around that. Budget line items, this is just sort of an example of the types of things that you can include. One of the features of RSTF in the past has been that with the training delivery side, it's been paid as a subsidy, and we've often referred to it as a higher subsidy.

For this round, it won't be paid as a higher subsidy. It actually will be paid as block amounts. So your budget is really indicating what the true cost is to deliver the program. The budget template that we provide you, enables you to sort of identify the costs of your trainers and instructional design, coordinators, et cetera. But it also provides an opportunity to put in what your incomes are. And when you fill it, there's a couple of formulas already in there where it will total it will indicate what the budget shortfall is, and it's the budget shortfall that you're actually claiming for. The other costs are things such as, you'll see their marketing managers and marketing budgets. So it is quite important to include some of those items where you don't already have a group of students that you can easily tap into and that you will have to go out and market the particular course. And this costs they're also for teacher upskilling. I mentioned before, this is around specialist training as well as regional.

So there may be instances where you will have to upskill some of your staff. The things that we won't fund, they include major capital works, such as new builds, the purchase of land, maintenance work. So if you were purchasing or you're putting up a proposal to purchase equipment, then in doing so, you take on that responsibility of maintaining that work, that equipment moving forward. We won't consider equipment or minor capital works already funded through other government departments or programs. So we will look at those sorts of things. Within higher education and skills, a few weeks ago, we did launch another grant program, which is the TAFE Equipment Facilities Fund. So if you've received funding from there for equipment, then you're ineligible to apply to this particular fund with the same equipment. We also won't fund any completed equipment purchases or minor capital works. So if you already have work that's underway, then we won't. You wouldn't be eligible. And then the other, the last thing is really those business as usual costs that often are included in the course overhead fees.

So they shouldn't be included in your actual application. Now, I mentioned that we did do an evaluation last year, and there was some things, some findings that of there that I will share with you. So these are the things that contributed to successful projects. The first was around having skilled program and project managers. What we saw happen with a few projects was that there was a successful application, and then someone who already had potentially a full load was allocated to be the project manager or program manager. And when that happens, they tend to really struggle to keep on top of the project and keep it moving. So when you are doing your budgeting, ensure that you've got funding there for your program or project managers. But then if you're recruiting, make sure that they are skilled and knowledgeable in this area. The second thing was around comprehensive communication. And so that's very much around keeping everyone informed. It can be if you're working with industry because you're addressing particular specialists needs.

It could be in your local region and community in addressing the shortages and needs. And with us also, if you receive funding, we view it that we become a partner of yours. We're just as vested in making sure that the project's going to be successful as yourself. So it is important to keep us informed, very much working on that no surprises principle. We also found that with successful projects, they had appropriate and relevant evaluation strategies, and so I've already mentioned that in this round, evaluation is included in the actual criteria, and we are providing the template to assist you with putting together an evaluation plan. It does go to that point that I mentioned earlier also, that if you know exactly what the objectives are of your project and what success looks like, then when it comes to the end of it, it's easy to capture. But along the journey, you know what it is that you are striving to achieve. And then the final point, the ability to pivot and be responsive. This has really been highlighted in the last 18 months with Covid.

It's had an impact on the training system in a number of different ways. One of them has been around the way we deliver training. And so what you have found is, there has been a move to more online delivery remote or blended delivery. It can also be about immediate needs that pop up. So with this particular fund, RSTF, it is rolling applications. They may be a need that comes from your industry or from your region in five months time that we're not aware of at the moment and you're not aware of. So it does give you the opportunity to move fairly quickly and putting in an application for it to be considered. So finally, the next steps. First is, I encourage everyone to go back and visit the website. On that site, you will have the grant application guidelines and expression of interest form. What we've done in reviewing the application guidelines, you'll actually see the questions that will be on the application form. But we've given pointers and an indication of the type of information that we're looking for.

So you could just about use it like a checklist, when you're going through and addressing the criteria, you know, I have I covered this, this and this, and it'll show you the things that we're really looking for. When you've completed your expression of interest form, forward it to us in the RSTF inbox. The email address is on the form as well as on the website. So just send it through to us. And when we receive it, a department representative will then contact you to discuss your proposal. Now, this might be a principal regional advisor. And in the past, it was that group of people that worked very closely with the training providers. The principal regional advisors have now moved across to the Victorian Skills Authority, the VSA, and that happened a couple of weeks ago. But they're still here to provide some support to us. And if it is in a PRA, it'll be someone else from the department that will be in contact with you. If you proceed to lodge an application, so the department report will have a chat to you about what it is that you're applying, whether it looks like it will meet the criteria, whether there are any other EOIs that are similar, where there might be an opportunity for a partnership, you know, there can be a number of things that they have a conversation with you about.


Also, the presentation slide-deck can be viewed here.

Key dates and application process

  • RSTF funding will open 16 August 2021 and EOI's & applications can be lodged at any time throughout the year.
  • Applications received by 31 October 2021 will be assessed by 31 December 2021.
  • A representative from the department may contact you to discuss your proposal and suitability for the fund.
  • If your EOI is deemed viable, a link to the online Grant application form will be sent to you.

Frequently asked questions

Examples of completed grants

Regional Case Studies

Specialist Case Studies

Enquiries and EOI's must be submitted by email to: rstf@education.vic.gov.au