Many companies prefer to move existing employees to available positions within the company if possible. You already know them, and they know the company. Some employees may be rich in experience, but poor in formal qualifications. Should you hesitate to move them up?

If you have a choice of a new recruit with a shiny new degree or one with a few years of solid on-the-job experience, which will you choose?

Matt Hackett, manager of the digital & marketing recruitment team at Orchard, believes that a degree qualification used to be a major deciding factor in who got the job. But as more people have gained degrees, employers have become less impressed on the whole, and focused more on experience.

On the age-old question of qualifications versus experience, there may be a middle ground: Recognition of Prior Learning, or RPL.

What is RPL?

Skills Certified Australia says that Recognition of Prior Learning “allows individuals to be granted all, or part of, a nationally recognised qualification by demonstrating skills, understanding and experience in a particular field of work.” The skills and knowledge could have been gained through:

  • An overseas qualification, even if not recognised in Australia
  • Experience gained over the course of an individual’s career
  • Life experience gained in the community or with volunteer organisations
  • Formal training conducted by industry or educational institutions

The skills should be current, relevant, and demonstrable.

According to Volunteering Australia, “the main principle underpinning RPL is that for competency based training the focus should be on the outcomes of learning, rather than how, when or where the learning occurred.”

What is RPL used for?

RPL often serves to identify and then fill the gaps in an individual’s knowledge or qualifications. This can be done without investing the time needed for a full course of study at university or TAFE.

Many mature employees already have the necessary skills to do their job competently, but not the motivation to hit the books for long-term study just so they can say they are qualified. It’s hard to see the point of spending months or years studying often useless material when they already have the practical know-how.

Consider for example someone without formal qualifications in management, but who is heavily involved as a volunteer in their church or other community work. Their non-work life may include skills as diverse as managing people, organising projects, conflict resolution, and public speaking. This experience could be used as credit towards a formally recognised certificate or diploma in Business, Leadership & Management, or Work Health and Safety.

What’s in it for your business?

The NSW Department of Education and Communities gives this list of potential advantages to an employer considering RPL:

  • Employees gain qualifications without spending more time than necessary in off-the-job training
  • Employee motivation and retention
  • Having employee competencies measured and confirmed against external national benchmarks
  • Saving money on unnecessary training
  • Provision of individual training needs analysis information about employees at the same time as recognising existing skills and knowledge
  • Evidence of the organisation’s commitment to continuous improvement and quality if required as part of the organisation’s assessment for quality endorsement
  • Proof the business meets national benchmarks in its operations
  • Evidence towards individual employee performance appraisals
  • Capability to maintain an up-to-date skills base in your business and to be able to demonstrate this when competing for work.

The NSW Department of Industry says that such “recognition is faster, cheaper and more efficient than putting people through training in areas they already know well. It means less time off the job and is more satisfying for the learner.”

How does RPL work?

In Australia, Registered Training Organisations (RTO), like Learning Sphere or Qualify Me, can issue formal certification after assessing and supplementing the individual’s prior experience or learning.

Skills Certified Australia outlines a typical RPL pathway:

  1. Assess the candidate’s current skills
  2. Compile a portfolio of evidence relating to the candidate’s relevant experience
  3. Evidence is reviewed by an assessor through an RTO. The assessor may ask for additional evidence, or may require extra training to fill any gaps
  4. The RTO can then issue the qualification, which is the same as that received from full-time study.


Using the best people in the best possible way for your company need not require a university degree. Many competent employees have gained valuable experience in other fields of their lives—experience which can be easily converted into officially recognised accreditation. The savings in time and money can benefit both the company and the individual.


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