Occupation-directed training: proposed changes in the DHET Green Paper
Article by Suzanne Hattingh
The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) published three documents for public comment that contain far-reaching proposals for training for workplace competence:
The Green Paper gives a critical and very frank appraisal of the skills development system. It confirms the weaknesses and concerns that have been raised by informed commentators over a number of years. Employers and most key stakeholders should welcome the proposals in the Paper, which aim to remove bureaucratic obstacles and streamline processes to enable all parties to focus on developing the skills required to support economic growth and job creation.
The purpose of this article is to inform employers, training providers and interested parties about the proposed changes and to encourage critical engagement on crucial issues that affect workplace-based training.
This article highlights key issues in the Green Paper relating to the education and training (E&T) of employed people in the workplace context that generally happens in the environment of the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs). The article also makes recommendations on streamlining processes and improving implementation. The DHET will consider the comments received from key stakeholders and the public on the proposals in the Green Paper to develop the White Paper, and where required, approved changes will be captured in acts and regulations. (Page numbers in the Green Paper are provided for easy reference and indicated as [GP].)
The article covers the following areas:
The central theme of the Paper is improving access to and success at post-school learning sites, and strengthening bridges to the world of work in order to address the needs of the youth who are not employed or in some form of E&T. (A 2007 study found 2.8 million people between the ages of 18 and 24 in this situation, which has since worsened due to the economic slowdown [GP 4]). The bleak future for millions of young people has serious economic and social consequences for South Africa. Quality learning that develops workplace competence will assist in addressing these critical needs and contribute towards economic growth and social development.
Further Education and Training colleges must be strengthened and expanded so that they can play a greater role in addressing the need for post-school E&T. Own experience in capacity building of FET colleges across the country confirms the assessment in the Paper that “FET colleges are varied and diverse but, with some notable exceptions, they are mainly weak institutions” [GP 10].
The DHET has established a task team to study alternative institutional forms to address the needs of out-of-school youth and adults, in the form of Community Education and Training Centres, which would absorb the Public Adult Learning Centres. Such institutions should facilitate lifelong learning in communities, and offer routes to enable the development of skills, including literacy and numeracy skills [GP 31-32].
The DHET also recognises the contribution of private providers in increasing the participation rate in post-school E&T and developing scarce skills. The Paper argues for greater and better alignment and partnerships between the private and public sectors, albeit within a clearly defined regulatory framework [GP 49-50].
The Paper stresses the need to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the SETAs to ensure that training provision is directed towards identified sector, cross-sector and occupational needs. Their role in skills planning must be expanded to focus more on labour market analysis in order to improve the match between the supply of E&T and labour market needs. The SETAs have to play a stronger role in improving the articulation between educational institutions and the labour market. They should encourage, facilitate and fund private sector employers to provide workplace-based learning, especially through apprenticeships, learnerships and internships. SETAs should also do more than currently to monitor and evaluate the impact of skills interventions in their sectors [GP 63].
The Paper prioritises Professional, Vocational, Technical and Academic Learning programmes, which are a key pillar of the National Skills Development Strategy (NSDS III). PIVOTAL programmes lead to an occupationally-directed qualification and are delivered by a college or university – and must include supervised practical learning in a workplace. These programmes will require a model of cooperation between a SETA, a higher or FET institution and an employer to ensure that curricula and courses are relevant to labour market needs [NSDS III, par. 3.1]. Examples are apprenticeships, learnerships, internships, skills programmes, as well as professional placements, work-integrated learning and work experience, provided that they result in qualifications.
The Paper requires SETAs to ring fence 10% of mandatory grants for such programmes to encourage employers to provide work-based opportunities [NSDS III, par. 4.2]. Government departments and state-owned enterprises are also required to improve their role in on-the-job skills development, especially in learnerships, internships and work experience for graduates.
The Paper proposes that the discretionary grants paid by SETAs from the skills levy should only be paid for programmes that lead to a full qualification or an occupational award; they should not be paid for short courses or for the provision of a limited number of unit standards that do not lead to a qualification or award. In addition, a defined minimum percentage of the discretionary grant should be made available to support public providers (mainly colleges and universities of technology) so that they can offer occupational qualifications and awards. This grant could also be paid for workplace experience that is required as part of a qualification or after completion of a qualification, e.g. for internships [GP 66].
The suggestion in the Green Paper on reducing the mandatory grant has already been incorporated into the draft SETA Grant Regulations of 12 January 2012, which reduce the mandatory grant paid to employers for submitting their Workplace Skills Plans (WSPs) from 50% to 40% [Grant Regulations, par. 4(3)].
The changes proposed in the Paper to the mandatory grant are aimed at ensuring that the WSP and Annual Training Report (ATR) reflect real priorities and trends, and ensure more reliable data on skills and skills development [GP 65]. The ATR should not be assessed against the WSP, but should indicate all the training that has taken place in the workplace (whether SETA-funded or not). Employers should get the mandatory grant if their WSP and ATR contain comprehensive information on the company and the training planned and delivered. The grant will no longer be used as a ‘steering grant’ towards SETA priorities or NQF-aligned programmes [GP 66]. These changes have already been incorporated into the WSP/ATR templates in the draft SETA Grant Regulations, which no longer require employers to indicate whether training is aligned to the NQF.
The Paper strongly criticises the quality assurance system of the SETA Education and Training Quality Assurance bodies (ETQAs) for contributing towards a ‘compliance’ culture that focuses on quantity and throughput rather than on learning and impact [GP xiii]. “... there is serious doubt that the quality assurance bodies have improved the quality of provision ... In many cases quality assurance by SETAs has been reduced to meeting bureaucratic compliance requirements that have little to do with the quality of provision ... The almost complete absence of monitoring and evaluation within the system has made it very difficult to identify and address shortfalls. The perception is of a system that continues to repeat errors on a regular basis” [GP 65].
The Paper indicates that “SETAs will continue to play a defined role in quality assurance” [GP 64], but reminds us that the NQF Act of 2008 repealed the regulations under which SETAs were accredited to conduct quality assurance [GP 17]. The newly established Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO) will have overall responsibility for quality assurance in the sub-framework for trades and occupations, assisted mainly by professional bodies .
The Paper proposes strengthening external assessment systems for national qualifications as a priority to “substantially reduce the need for detailed accreditation processes of providers” [GP 77]. The Paper is highly critical of the complex quality assurance system that requires provider accreditation, registration of assessors, constituent assessors and moderators, as well as verifiers – all essentially quality assuring the achievement of the same learning outcomes, but with results that are often “of questionable value” [GP 17]. The Paper foresees that the QCTO will use external assessment as an indicator of poor performance, and then investigate institutions where learners consistently perform poorly, followed by remedial or capacity building measures where required [GP 78].
The Paper clearly promotes the view that not all training has to be aligned to the NQF, lead to qualifications, or be delivered by accredited providers [GP xiii]. The Paper states that training does not need to be rigorously quality assured if it is meeting the needs of learners, employers, government departments or other organisations [GP 16]. “No providers should feel compelled to develop programmes against unit standards, nor should any quality assurer require their use” [GP 74]. “Only providers offering national qualifications or (occupational) awards should have to be registered. Government departments must also be made aware that alignment with unit standards is not a requirement for training, as this appears to be a common misconception” [GP 36]. The Paper acknowledges that “unit standards tend to fragment knowledge and militate against the coherence necessary to address the mastery requirements of specific professions” [GP 16].
All stakeholders, especially employers, are encouraged to engage with the issues raised in the Green Paper and to submit comments to the DHET by 30 April 2012. It is hoped that the Department will be bold enough to support the many positive recommendations in the Green Paper aimed at improving the quality and relevance of education and training to the benefit of learners and employers, and ultimately the economy and the broader society.
Invitation: Any information in this article may be used and distributed to promote engagement on the important issues relating to the sub-framework. Comments and opposing views are invited to enrich the debate and can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Suzanne Hattingh is a human resource development consultant specialising in performance improvement solutions. She is the author of Skills planning for improved staff performance and other publications on learnerships, the NQF and skills development.
RESPONSE TO ONE OF THE ABOVE ASPECTS:
“Refocusing and improving the SETAs”: Currently this is one of the challenges that we are experiencing in education …. SETA’s, Umalusi, Higher Education … too many bodies and institutions. There is a perception of. ‘ I am better than you and I can’t acknowledge what you are doing’.
In this discussion a ‘model of cooperation between a SETA, a higher or FET institution and an employer to ensure that curricula and courses are relevant to labour market needs’ are listed. Cooperation between all the role players for a specific industry is necessary, but until we have one quality assurance body overseeing all training in SA, I am skeptical if this will ever happen.
Thanks Suzanne for summary. Let's hope that things to improve. It is frustrating at present especially the pace at which things happen (or don't happen) - we definitely need processes to be streamlined so that turnaround time is greatly improved and so that at the end of the day, the learners are getting quality education and training and then getting their results as quickly as possible. I find the lack of response to queries in current situation extremely frustrating or the response that 'it takes time'.............
Thank you Suzanne, for your views. I am pleased that the GP also aims to remove some bureaucratic obstacles and streamline processes. This will certainly re-focus E & T where the real needs are. Hard work will be at the order of the day to ensure the strengthening of the FET colleges, improving quality assurance and to streamline the functions of the SETAs. It is a great idea to promote uniformity among the SETAs. Hopefully pivitol grants will not be so hard to come by, as SETAs sit with so much money, but they make it so difficult for private providers in HE to get the opportunities. Competent leadership will have to be in place to drive these ideals within set time frames and to monitor the success throughout.
Than You Suzanne, without competent leadership we are doomed to fail. it is frustrating when the SETAS are so difficult and headstrong about red tape and dont understand the real issues around peoples needs in training.
All good and well?
The government can streamline, simplify, change, improve, prioritise, create access to school, colleges and Universities however much they like, BUT, if the individual is not motivated to study, learn more, break boundaries and improve themselves, then nothing much will change the levels of skill in this country. Young people in this country will still find themselves unemployed, needy and poor.
Verandering moet ook by die individu begin. Jong mense moet hulself uitdaag, meer opsies ondersoek, hul ingesteldheid sien vir wat dit werklik is, en dan hul geloof en persepsies verander na “ek kan die verandering maak”.
Mense wat verantwoordelikheid aanvaar vir hul eie lewe se kwaliteit, het meer suksesse.
Hi Thea, do you see a role for the training provider in understanding the life circumstances of youth and why so many have a passive victim mentality, and training provider being the catalyst to unlock that?