Recognition of Prior Learning and its relationship to the QCTO 10

Recognition of Prior Learning and its relationship to the QCTO

Now is the time for companies to address the issue

Background and/or update

The review of the NQF on the recommendation of the Ministers of Education and Labour took place during the course of 2007/2008 and became law by means of the Skills Development Amendment Act No. 37 of 2008: and the National Qualifications Framework Act, No. 67 of 2008 thereby repealing The South African Qualifications Authority Act, 1995 (Act No. 58 of 1995)

The reason for the changes to the NQF was that the previous NQF included all aspects of education including General, Further and Higher education as applicable in both institutional and workplace – based qualifications at all levels.

While it was felt at the outset that all aspects of education and training should continue to value, support and develop all fields and formats of learning it was necessary to differentiate between the varying forms and requirements in addition to their individual relevance and contribution to the entire spectrum of education, training and skills development needs.

The Quality Council for trades and Occupations, (QCTO) was therefore introduced to meet the changing needs of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). The QCTO will concentrate on aspects of learning required in order to establish occupation competence which include both trades and professions.

The QCTO qualifications will incorporate and always include a work experience component to ensure learners are competent to do something related to a specific occupation or “job task”.

In my opinion, companies should consider the quality, experience, qualifications and potential qualifications of their existing employees. Many employees as a result of workplace experiential learning are potentially “qualified” and employers should consider offering them an opportunity to be recognised as such by means of RPL assessment.

Now is the time for HR and training managers to

 Review job profiles and align these to the “Organising Framework for Occupations” (OFO)
 Address the RPL needs of employees in order to afford employees the opportunity of gaining the recognition they greatly deserve
 Encourage and assist as many employees as possible to undergo RPL assessment
 Develop or train key role players to assist employees in the “preparation and presentation of portfolios for assessment”

Fundamental, core and elective components of qualifications

Qualifications will be made up of Theory, Practical and Experience components as previously mentioned. The previous Fundamental, core and Elective components will therefore be replaced by these.

All of these will therefore be core to the qualification and compulsory for the learner. In addition there will be specialisation components to be used by learners as appropriate to the specific occupational requirement.

So what is RPL and how will it fit in?

RPL is a way of recognising what individuals already know and can do. RPL is based on the premise that people learn both inside and outside formal learning structures (including learning from work and life experiences) and this learning can be worthy of recognition and credit. RPL is used extensively by those seeking admission to a course, as advance standing for a course or credits towards a qualification. Those seeking entry to a particular field of employment, promotion or self- development can also use RPL.

There are essentially two types of RPL
The recognition of prior accredited learning
The recognition of prior experiential learning

The first type is relatively simple to implement, provided there is a common means of assigning value to both the learner’s previous qualification and the target qualification.

Recognition of prior experiential learning is far more difficult to implement. It involves designing instruments that will capture, measure and evaluate learning acquired experientially, and often informally, in a range of differing contexts.

Matching previous learning with learning outcomes of a particular qualification can achieve this.

The recognition of both the above types of learning, accredited and experiential usually involves the following process.

• The candidate is advised to reflect on his/her prior learning and experience in the light of identified learning outcomes.
• The learner identifies his readiness and indicates this to the RPL advisor.
• The RPL advisor prepares the candidate for an assessment by explaining and demonstrating how to compile a portfolio of evidence.
• Once the learner is ready, the advisor informs the assessor.
• The assessor meets with the learner and evaluates his readiness. If not ready he/she is advised on areas to develop. Once learner is ready, the process continues.
• The assessor meets with the learner and identifies the assessment plan and the methods of assessment.

This is a supportive process, and learners must fully understand the process before it begins.

When ready, the learner will submit the portfolio of evidence to the assessor, which contains all the “proof” to show competency on the specific outcomes of the standard.

If the portfolio is adequate the learner is certified competent, or the learner will be advised on how to reach competency.

In order to obtain credits (or a full qualification) towards qualifications registered on the NQF, a learner must be assessed against the unit standards of that qualification.

In the past, assessment was based on measuring a person’s achievements against others being assessed. The most common way to assess an individual was by means of a written examination.

Therefore, assessment is a way of allowing individuals to prove that they are competent. Competence is the ability to transfer and apply knowledge and skills in the workplace.

Assessment allows an individual to prove that they have achieved the outcomes described in the unit standards. The process involves gathering information about the individual’s achievements.

Different types of evidence are collected, using a variety of assessment methods (for example workplace evidence, projects, presentations, case studies etc). The evidence is then assessed and recorded against the outcomes of the unit standard.

Judgements about an individual’s performance in relation to the unit standard (and not in relation to other learners), are made by a registered assessor (some-one who has proven himself/herself competent against the registered assessor unit standards). Assessors play a vital role in ensuring quality is maintained.

Recognition of prior learning is of tremendous benefit to employees at present but in the future will have a whole new meaning. No is the time to consider the needs of your employees and to pre-empt the changes that will take place.

Cost considerations

In tough economic time such as we are experiencing many companies have cut back on training costs and budgets. RPL assessment is a fraction of the cost of a full course of training and yet it is overlooked by so many employers.

© Des Squire (Managing Member)
Cell 0828009057

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About Des Squire

I specialise in Employment Equity and Skills Development issues. Qualified facilitator, assessor, moderator, verifier and SDF. Available for any related assignments and or freelance work. If ou have a need let's meet to discuss. Quotes for training on request.

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10 thoughts on “Recognition of Prior Learning and its relationship to the QCTO

  • Des Squire Post author

    Hi David and Charles

    Thank you for the invluable input

    Currently there are very exciting moves afoot at SAQA related to RPL and the whole issue of RPL in terms of Quality, delivery and resourcing. The policy, currently in its final stages, will be available for public comment shortly.

  • davidjooste

    I don’t know why organisations, training providers and the respective SETA’s alike find the implementation of RPL so difficult.   All I do know is that when it comes to exploring the RPL pathway stock up on the Prozac and happy meds coz it’s one of the most frustrating projects one can pursue.


    It’s completely as if RPL is seen as inferior to any possible pathway in obtaining a qualification, and that one is better off pursuing a career path on experience alone than going through the hassle of obtaining a qualification based on RPL. 


    I personally think the biggest challenge to RPL is the quality aspect and that is the reason why most people avoid RPL altogether.  Because quality is seen as an abstract issue which is open to interpretation most organisations do not know how to deal with the concept.


    Des the following point you’re making is very valid

    Now is the time for HR and training managers to

    • Review job profiles and align these to the “Organising Framework for Occupations” (OFO)
      Address the RPL needs of employees in order to afford employees the opportunity of gaining the recognition they greatly deserve
    • Encourage and assist as many employees as possible to undergo RPL assessment
    • Develop or train key role players to assist employees in the “preparation and presentation of portfolios for assessment”


    The first step to developing a RPL approach is a comprehensive understanding of job functionality combined with an understanding of SAQA aligned unit standards, in order  to matching the required output in terms of available SAQA unit standards and/or qualifications.  This is most likely to set the scene for the implementation of an overall quality approach.


    Once you have establish the criteria against which the employee/learner will be measured it becomes easier to plan and conduct the required training needs analysis to establish the training needs, both on organisational and individual level.


    A RPL  pre-assessment will be required to establish the employee’s/learner existing frame of knowledge, skills and experience.


    I have found the best way to approach the RPL assessment is the same as going the “formative” assessment route in normal assessment practices combined with a practical training practice logbook format of learnership assessment for the PoE guide/file


    (For instance RPL on unit standard 12988 record income and receipts)


    Task 1.1

    Process documents relating to all types of goods and services (of a capital or revenue nature) supplied :

    1. Prepare and check invoices and credit notes against e.g. quotes, orders, price lists, trade discounts, tenders, delivery notes, proof of delivery signatures, VAT compliance and PPAS (organisational Policies, Procedures and Accounting Systems)
    2. Process sales, sales returns and general journals using both the periodic and perpetual  inventory systems
    3. Post journals to the general, debtors and creditors ledgers
    4. Prepare and distribute debtors’ statements
    5. Communicate proactively with debtors 


    The reason being is that although leaners/candidates might be able to practically do the job, they sometimes find it difficult to interpret the SAQA aligned assessment criteria as expressed in the unit standards. The formative approach serves as a learning activity insofar as learning to articulate the theoretical knowledge of the unit standard.


    Then organisations in general should ensure that all staff appointed at a managerial level received training on the following unit standards

    117877 Perform one-on-one training on the job

    117865 Assist and support learners to manage their learning experiences; and

    12544 Facilitate the preparation and presentation of evidence for assessment


    Employees will start “buying-into “ RPL as soon as RPL becomes an organisational culture as reward mechanism which needs to be driven by government, the respective SETAs and accreditation bodies to address the growing need of the economy, its people and organised labour. I think the pressure on organisations to become “working universities” is only going to increase in the future.

  • Charles Dey

    This is a most interesting discussion. RPL has of course been with us since the start of the current NQF (I can remember Ray Eberlein waxing very enthusiastically about it way back in 1994). The problem has always been implementation. What set of evidence proves that a person has gained sufficient knowledge, understanding AND experience to be declared competent? Is it possible to design an RPL assessment tool for each unit standard which is consistent for all learners? In my experience (and it is confined only to international supply chain management and logistics) the nature of the unit standards we have is such that it it serves no purpose whatsoever to attempt to design RPL assessment tools for one unit standard at a time because, in order to carry out any function in the workplace, the individual needs to be competent across a number of unit standards and therefore these need to be assessed as an integrated whole.

    In the current dispensation my view is that we, as providers, are assessing far too great a component of learner’s theoretical knowledge and not nearly enough of their ability to do the actual job. In creating RPL assessment tools.

    What do others feel abou this?

  • Des Squire Post author

    Hi Daniel

    There are changes about to happen related to RPL that I am sure you will find exciting. I was in a meeting on Friday of last week related to this and can confirm there are major moves taking place. There is a very positive and excitng RPL future ahead.   

  • Des Squire Post author

    Hi Suzanne
    I must disagree and stand by my statement as the facts have been confirmed by QCTO.
    3.2 Learning Components
    The Skills Development Act (No. 97 of 1998) identifies three components in its definition of occupational qualifications: “… a qualification …… consisting of knowledge unit standards, practical unit standards and work experience unit standards”
    The curriculum model recognizes that expert practice requires a complex interplay of knowledge and skills in a range of working environments; however the pathway to that end requires the disaggregation of the different component parts and the development of a reflexive ability to apply the knowledge and skills to new contexts. Each component will embody the critical cross field outcomes.
    The QCTO is using the following approved polices to implement its mandate. These are:
    QCTO Curriculum and Assessment Policy – Approved on 22 June 2011
    Policy on Delegation to DQPs and AQPs – Approved on 22 June 2011
    Policy on Qualifications Development Facilitators (QDFs) – Approved on 26 October 2011

  • Daniel Lucky Shozi

    Excellent thought and reality.If we are to close the gap between scarce and critical skills shortage at a faster or fastwsr pace, RPL is the way to go. Think about it people or employees who are doing most of these scarce skills job without qualification and with minimum supervision, which means they are highly competent in practicals using all the trick of the trades properly.The good reason to ask companies and employees of these ” Mastere crafts men and women, what stops them from being RPL and deemed competent, formaly.Guys that have been found not yet cpmpetent on trade tests only t all trade test centres and have no money to go back and book another date, what happened to them. I mean current plumbers, electricians, motor machanincs etc, with no trade tests but are more superior at times compared to trade tested. I say experience in the trade cannot be compared with anything. The “BOTTOM of the PYRAMID” trades people have to be recognised and be given acceptance through RPL systems and be brought to mainstream as targeted individuals also.

  • Suzanne Hattingh

    Please keep in mind that the occupational qualifications model is only a proposal at this stage. Therefore, Des’s statement “Qualifications will be made up of Theory, Practical and Experience components as previously mentioned. The previous Fundamental, core and Elective components will therefore be replaced by these” is not accurate. There is still no certainty about the retention/scrapping of existing occupation-directed qualifications and their replacement with the three unit standards proposed in the occupational qualifications model. It is advisable for training providers and employers to wait for formal confirmation of changes to occupation-directed qualifications before re-aligning their programmes and training processes.

  • Des Cross

    Well done, it places all the necessary information required in one place.

    Having observed one of the BA degrees at the University Of Massachusetts involving RPl for mature students, I think it works and it should take centre stage in training in South Africa.

    A RPL should be a rigorous assessment of a person’s competence.

    The problem I have is with the word competent (or not). I would hate to fly with an airline whose pilots are merely competent. They should be super excellent!