Why our Workplaces are not Learning Places - skills development bureaucracy fails workplace reality

By sylviahammond, 7 March, 2024
workplace smile

The Background

In the week 4th – 8th March, 2023 a letter ostensibly from OUTA (Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse) was posted on Facebook.  To say it caused a stir is an under-statement. 

Looking at the logo and letterhead, the letter appeared genuine, but a close reading – half way down revealed the words: “We have requested the support of OUTA to do the following:” indicating that the author was NOT OUTA. 

What was the request? Twofold: firstly, requesting a letter to the Minister (Department of Higher Education and Training) requiring the extension of registration/re-registration of legacy qualifications and skills programmes; failing a positive response from the Minister for a legal approach to the High Court requesting the same. (Using the legal term of a “mandamus” - maybe providing insight into the author of the letter?)

The letter certainly set the proverbial cat among the pigeons – until news was circulated that the letter was not from OUTA.

However, the real – and fundamentally underlying - question is: why have skills development practitioners became so frustrated and so alarmed, that the only way out appears to be to approach OUTA on their behalf – and the High Court? 

How did we get to this stage of panic in the skills development landscape? And for those not directly affected, what is it all about?

Firstly, there are the SETAs (Sector Education and Training Authorities). Twenty-one SETAs responsible for disbursing the Mandatory and Discretionary Grants from the SDL (Skills Development Levy) monies collected by SARS (South African Revenue Service). SDFs (Skills Development Facilitators) are registered by companies with the SETAs to provide the necessary administration. 

The Mandatory Grant requires an annual report of training done and planned training; the Discretionary Grants are applied for by employers wishing to provide workplace training. The Discretionary Grant applications are applied for separately during “window” periods varying per SETA. Applications are subject to approval by each SETA, based upon the priorities set by DHET per SETA. (Non-Governmental Organisations, organised labour, and non-levy paying employers may also apply.)

Discretionary funding provides financial support for employers wishing to register employees and/or unemployed workers on Learnerships, which are a formal route to qualifications (or part-qualifications) registered by SAQA (South African Qualifications Authority) on the NQF (National Qualifications Framework); or undertaking Skills Programmes - all at the workplace. To qualify for funding of formal Qualifications and Skills Programmes, the SDPs (Skills Development Providers) need to be accredited to deliver the particular programmes. 

In the early years of skills development, SETAs registered Skills Programmes appropriate to their sector, and developed Qualifications for submission to SAQA for NQF registration. Learnerships were registered to implement specific Qualifications.

Legislation in 2008 and 2009, completely changed the landscape: skills development moved from the Department of Labour to the DHET, which was split off from the Department of Education. The Qualifications and Skills Programmes produced before this watershed became known as Legacy Qualifications and Legacy Skills Programmes. 

As the programmes were developed individually by the SETAs, many of the Qualifications are substantially duplicated with minor changes per sector, and quite literally hundreds of Legacy Skills Programmes exist over the 21 SETAs.

dockyard crane

Examples of the diversity of Legacy Skills Programmes are: all forms of moving lifting machinery – various forklift and counter-balance vehicles to large dockside cranes; transportation programmes including driving, dangerous chemicals; firefighting and evacuation; and the various levels of First Aid. These are Regulatory Skills Programmes, requiring compliance with Department of Employment and Labour (DEL) Regulations, and usually subject to renewal periods. All are essential to workplace compliance, the responsibility of the employer is to ensure that all employees are suitably trained and licenced, and that the employees attend licence renewal programmes. The criticality of these is demonstrated by accidents where the truck driver has been suitably trained to minimise the risk of explosion by flammable liquids and risk to human life.   

There are also many additional Skills Programmes per sector, for example: under the Food and Beverage SETA there are a range of Skills Programmes related to the safety of food and beverage products. Dairy production programmes; meat and fish canning; cold chain management for refrigerated products; Good Manufacturing Practices; Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP); labelling requirements, and hygiene. All are essential programmes required to ensure traceability of food and drink products, to prevent widespread outbreaks of diseases such as Listeriosis, which may lead to fatalities of consumers; or the recent recall of peanut butter products contaminated with aflatoxin, which may cause illness and is potentially carcinogenic. 

 The Present Crisis

What is the relevance of this information to the OUTA letter?

The changed skills development landscape of 2008/2009 formalised 3 Quality Councils, the Quality Council for General and Further Education, known as Umalusi, covering basic and further education; the Council for Higher Education (CHE) is self-explanatory; and most relevant to this article – the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations – the QCTO. 

The QCTO is responsible for a sub-framework of the NQF, namely: the OQSF – the Occupational Qualifications Sub-Framework, and has embarked upon a replacement, or reformulating of the Legacy Qualifications, and the Legacy Skills Programmes, which are all based upon Unit Standards. They are all to be reformulated or replaced by Occupational Qualifications, Occupational Part-qualifications, or Occupational Skills Programmes.

 June 2023 saw the end of the Legacy Qualifications, with June 2024 the last date for registration, and a “teach-out” until June 2027. Learnerships – a concept created by the original Skills Development Act of 1998 will come to an end as the Legacy Qualifications cease. 

Although some of the Legacy Skills Programmes have been replaced by Occupational Skills Programmes, by far the majority have not been replaced. Consequently, if all the compliance-related Legacy Skills Programmes fall away, employers will not be able ensure compliance with DEL Regulations for Occupational Health and Safety, putting workers, customers, and consumers at risk. 

Additionally, although some Occupational Qualifications have been developed, and some Occupational Skills Programmes have been developed, Skills Development Providers are required to be accredited to provide them, individually at each training site. 

The letter that purported to be from OUTA indicated the danger of Skills Development Providers going out of business – that will occur because: 

  • they will no longer be able to provide the Legacy Qualifications and Skills Programmes after June 2024, 
  • not all the replacements required have been developed, 
  • there is a lead time to achieve development of replacements and registration by SAQA on the NQF,
  • Skills Development Providers cannot be accredited to provide what does not exist. 
cash notes & coins

The unemployment could result in closure of thousands of Skills Development Provider companies, including all their Facilitators, internal Assessors and Moderators, and considerable administrative staff, who manage the bureaucratic project administration - from Learner registration to certification. 

The greater danger, however, is to our national economy: dangerous workplaces, unsafe food and drink, global cancellation of export orders, massive unemployment, and a virtual standstill to workplace training. More time is needed to fully understand what is required for workplace performance.   


Social media are circulating reports that the DHET will be meeting with the QCTO and the SETA CEOs. We can only hope that the meeting of the acronyms brings forth the commitment to extend all Legacy Qualifications and Legacy Skills Programmes, which are essential to workplace compliance, occupational safety, and economic performance.   


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