Why are SDFs so undervalued - given the complexity of their role?

By sylviahammond, 21 March, 2024
Two working

In the beginning, Skills Development Facilitators (SDFs) were central to the implementation of skills development. Employers were required to register an SDF, who would register with the Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) covering that sector of the economy. The SDF was required to submit the employer’s training plans and reports on training done. The SDF was part of the statutory requirement and there was the incentive - a percentage of the Skills Development Levy to be recovered - simply by making the SDF appointment. 

In days gone by, when life – and skills development – were simple, so was the reporting. The only complexity came from inter-Seta transfers, as many employers had been incorrectly registered with SARS. Nowadays, however, despite continuing to be registered with relevant SETAs to submit applications on behalf of employers, the SDF no longer forms part of the Regulations.  

The world of work has moved on. The complexity of SETA submissions and of workplace based learning has grown exponentially – as has the attendant know-how required of the SDF.

This article was inspired by a discussion by skills development practitioners on the Association for Skills Development in South Africa (ASDSA) WhatsApp group. The content of this Opinion Piece focuses on the range of knowledge required of SDFs. Further Opinion Pieces will follow on the complexity of the bureaucratic structures, the strategic project of the QCTO to implement the quality assurance of occupational qualifications, and the transfer of responsibility from SETAs to the QCTO.

What does the SDF need to know? And why? SDFs engage with employers. The SDF has an inherent advocacy role – to encourage participation in skills development, to motivate by presenting the business case for organisational performance, and critically to discourage unethical practices. The knowledge required to fulfill the SDF role covers a number of domains – additional to skills development. 

Employment and Labour Law 

There are a range of situations that require knowledge of employment and labour law, particularly the Labour Relations, and the Basic Conditions of Employment Acts. Interns on fixed term employment contracts, or unemployed workers on Learnerships with employment contracts for the Learnership duration will raise questions of the appropriate procedures for disciplinary action, and substantive and procedural fairness of terminations. Other relevant legislation examples would be: Unemployment Insurance and maternity leave entitlement; National Minimum Wage in accordance with credits acquired; Employment Equity reporting for periods below and above three months contract duration.   


A major incentive for implementation of skills development interventions has been Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE). This is one of the areas where the drive for a B-BBEE level distorts the spirit – if not the letter – of skills development, and one of the areas that SDFs encounter. Examples relate to maneuvers to acquire points. An employer offering to be a lead employer for learners undertaking courses not related to the business, who remain away from the workplace and don’t acquire work experience – but the employer is able to report on training and on expenditure. Putting employees on interventions below their existing qualification level, simply to report the intervention and cost. The employer may acquire the appropriate B-BBEE level, but the improvement of workplace efficiency, or employee development, or redress are all abandoned.  

Organisational performance. 

Implementation of Skills development includes organisational audits of individual performance against occupational roles to identify where skills need to be developed. When collectively implemented the overall organisational performance improves. When allied with appropriate coaching and mentoring to support skills development and performance improvement – rather than punishing under-performance supports a culture of learning. Employees are able to improve their performance, and supervisors and managers improve their ability to manage employees. Additionally, the strategy supports fulfillment of Employment Equity Plans, and B-BBEE evaluation. 

Young people coming into such a learning culture as interns or on Learnerships are more likely to develop both skills and confidence. The organisation stands to gain by identifying those who perform well and demonstrate potential for growth as they may be recruited when positions become available.

Our moral commitment

All employers in South Africa have a moral commitment - irrespective of what labour law requires. That is wherever possible, to seek to recruit, train, and advance young people whose families have previously been excluded from: specific occupations at work; education and training; owning of land; and full socio-economic inclusion.       


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