Acquire in the dock

Fairfax Media   |   18 December 2015

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Acquire Learning is the latest training company to land in the Federal Court accused of unconscionable conduct and false or misleading behaviour after it sold tens of thousands of government-funded courses to vulnerable job-seekers.  The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has alleged before the Federal Court that the company bought the details of unsuccessful applicants on job websites, then cold-called them to sell expensive diploma courses.

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The courses, funded under the federal-government funded VET FEE-HELP loan scheme, cost between $19,000 and $52,000.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims says the Victoria-based company took advantage of vulnerable consumers and used “unfair tactics” and placed “undue pressure” to convince consumers to enrol.

A script for Acquire call centre operators shows that people looking for jobs online were told by telemarketers: “We are all about helping people land their dream job.”

The script also promises a free computer or iPad for signing up to a course, which has since been made illegal under federal legislation. Job seekers were also promised “the edge over other applicants”.

The ACCC says telemarketers signed up unsuitable people to courses, and misled them that the primary purpose was not selling an educational service, but getting the “client a job”.

In return, Acquire was paid large commissions by the training organisations they sold on behalf of, while students “did not receive the promised employment prospects and were left with a significant VET FEE-HELP debt,” according to the ACCC.

Fairfax Media has been told that 7%  or fewer of people signed to courses through Acquire actually completed the course.

One job seeker was told, falsely, “we actually put 4217 people … into jobs last month”.

Sims acknowledges that the behaviour, which took place between July 2014 and March 2015, was historical, and the company had made “large strides” towards improving it.

But he said while it was going on it was “so egregious that it can’t go unrecognised”.

Acquire has recently moved from being strictly a sales company, having bought a majority stake in jobs website CareerOne (where Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation remains a minority shareholder). It also bought its own training organisation, Franklyn Scholar.

 

See
ACCC targets training broker Acquire Learning & Careers
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