The Skills Development arena is an ever changing landscape and the “new kid on the block” is causing quite a stir.
The Skills Development Act Amendment Bill introduces the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO), which will coordinate learning towards occupational competence within our national learning system. The council was legally established in April 2009 and became fully functional by April 2010. The focus is to facilitate the development of a demand-driven occupational learning system that will provide relevant occupational skills (especially in terms of workplace experience and be industry driven) and will hopefully also be less bureaucratic.
The QCTO recognises the need for all occupational learning to build on general knowledge and theory and provides for linkages and partnerships with both public and private provider systems. For this purpose, the QCTO has established working relationships usually via the SETAs to create planned curricula. In order to fulfill its mandate, the QCTO will cooperate closely with SAQA, the other QCs and professional bodies.
The QCTO will ensure that learning programmes based on registered planned curricula are developed to address specific scarce and critical skills needed. The legislation also allows for different kinds of learnerships, apprenticeships and internships that can be accommodated and that different learning routes can be selected to suit the needs of both the learner and the employer. QTCO is now one of three Quality Assurers, the other being Umalusi and Council of Higher Education and Training.
An interesting change in the legislation is that the workplace will now also be quality assured, not just the training providers. The focus of occupational qualifications will be the development of occupational competence which, in turn, contributes to increased employment rates and productivity – thus ROI. The establishment of the QCTO will significantly increase the efficiency of the current ETQA system.
A common misconception in the market is that the QCTO will replace the SETAs, but SETAs will maintain their responsibilities for their specific sectors. What will change is that the Education and Training Quality Assurance Bodies (ETQA) will no longer be responsible for monitoring and auditing the provision and achievement of NQF registered standards and qualifications as was stipulated in the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) Act of 1995. ETQAs were accredited by SAQA to monitor compliance with SAQA requirements and were responsible for the accreditation of constituent education and training providers. This role will now move to the QCTO.
It is promised that without the quality aspect the fund management process will be more effective, streamlined and user friendly. It is necessary to collect information on labour market needs in terms of occupations and skills required and train employable workers to grow business and the economy. In such the QCTO has been tasked with ensuring that there are fit-for-purpose occupational qualifications to respond directly to labour market needs.
The QCTO will manage and coordinate the qualifications in the occupational framework (OFO) in terms of their development, provision, assessment and impact; its scope will be the development and quality assurance of the fit-for-purpose occupational qualifications and skills programmes as required by the labour market for work and employment purposes. Such fit-for-purpose occupational qualifications will be certified as national occupational awards or national skills certificates. The awards will name the relevant occupation that the learner is now competent to practice.
Both employers and trade unions need competent L&D professionals. Such professionals can now specialise in various areas. There will be two types of qualifications; a National Occupational Award certifying the achievement of an occupation listed on the Organising Framework for Occupations and a National Skills Certificate certifying competence in a specialisation related to an occupation or group of related occupation. This is especially relevant to the occupationally directed L&D Practitioner.
With regards to the management function of Assessment Quality Partners (AQP) the new legislation stipulates that AQPs should provide input to develop assessment strategy, assist in fund development of nationally standardised assessment instruments and manage assessment processes. This means that the AQP role will be responsible for developing exemplars, specifying requirements for accreditation of assessment centres, recommending assessment centres, registering assessors, moderators and invigilators, reporting on assessment results and analysing assessment results in terms of quality. This will hopefully create the valid, practicable, fair and reliable system we have been working towards for the last 13 years.
Knowledge, practical skills and work experience will be assessed by QCTO accredited skills development providers in accordance with the criteria outlined in the various curriculum components. This assessment is referred to as internal assessment, or assessment against curriculum components, and culminates in statements of results by accredited skills development providers. For work experience a log book or formal statement of work experience will be issued by approved workplaces. The same assessment criteria linked to each curriculum component will be applied when conducting assessments for the purpose of Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL).
In order to qualify for an external assessment, learners must provide proof of completion of all required components by means of statements of results and work experience. The QCTO requires that all learners undertaking occupational programmes registered on NQF levels 3‐4 are assessed against the Foundational Learning part qualifications and if found “not yet competent” must complete the specified communication and mathematical literacy courses. This must be completed prior to the external summative assessment. The same assessment criteria aligned to each curriculum component will be applied when conducting assessments for the purpose of RPL.
Taking the changes brought about by the new Amendment Bill into consideration, Learning and Development (L&D) institutions such as the Institute for People Development (IPD) need to ensure that work related resources are not taken for granted and create a scenario where a workforce will happily attend effective and productive training, providing true ROI and improved learning evaluations, positively impacting on performance and productivity. Training should stimulate new ideas and lead to Continuous Professional Development (CPD).
In response to this requirement the IPD created the ReCr8 programme that will follow the process of expanding knowledge, understanding and skill followed by continuous assessment and application of skills and assessment thereof in the workplace.
Whether these new changes and the response of industry thereto will address the skills shortage experienced in South Africa remains to be seen, but it seems as if the processes and quality standards imposed will be to the benefit of L&D professionals, employers and learners. With the SETA freed up to manage funds, the process of claiming back on L&D spend will be much easier, hopefully stimulating the funds available for up-skilling our nation.