Skills Development Providers (SDPs) & Training Providers

Please don’t kill occupational qualifications

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    Hannes Nel

    Services SETA recently announced that they are re-registering their qualifications and unit standards.

    I believe we discussed the pros and cons of unit standards enough, so let’s move on to full qualifications and the no longer new QCTO curriculum model. So-called employers who were supposed to provide learners on occupational qualifications, most notably learnerships, opportunities to gain workplace experience, did not for various reasons. And so it was decided not to issue learners with national certificates before they have completed workplace experience. To make things worse, workplace experience was added to the QCTO curriculum format. And as if that was not enough, OFO codes were linked to learning outcomes.

    The results of the above were that:

    • the QCTO curriculum format looks more like a jobs description than a standard for learning,

    • learners are denied certificates as long as they did not gain sufficient workplace experience,

    • few, if any, new qualifications were developed,

    • the AQPs, DQPs and all the other Q’s and P’s don’t work,

    • the assessment system does not work,

    • most private and public learning providers cannot offer the new qualifications because they don’t have access to workplaces,

    • organisations in the most unexpected places suddenly compete to become one of the Q’s,

    • unemployed learners cannot find opportunities to gain workplace experience, therefore they can’t receive certificates.

    The problem is now much worse than it was with the (still salvaging some occupational learning) unit standard approach.

    The main problem with the new approach is that it does not differentiate between certification and qualification.

    Learning providers should not be responsible for experiential leaning. Employers should do so and they don’t – many are not willing to become part of the formal learning process.

    Experiential learning can seldom, if ever, lead to reflexive competence. Gaining reflexive competence requires lots of practice and, therefore, time.

    Even with lots of practice there are still substantial differences in the levels of reflexive competence that individuals acquire through experience. The more experience they gain, the better they mostly become at performing tasks.

    Training providers should train people until they achieve sufficient knowledge and foundational competence to qualify for a certificate, diploma or degree.

    Quality assurance bodies should verify and issue such qualifications.

    I am confident that employers would employ people who qualified through private or public learning providers of occupational learning, even though they will not have practical experience. Some, as we know, would rather lure experienced people because they are not willing to invest in inexperienced people. Employers, therefore, need to be encouraged to employ them by means of incentives, for example by increasing the percentage of skills levies that they may claim back. Employers can protect their investment by means of a clause in the employment contract.

    Professional bodies should issue people who are qualified and gained experiential learning with occupational certificates, which is not a qualification, but rather an endorsement of the level at which the person can perform. The following are examples of such levels:

    • Certified, associate, expert.

    • Engineer, developer, master.

    • Technician, practitioner, chartered practitioner, master practitioner.

    • Bronze, silver, gold, platinum.

    Professional certification and qualification are not the same and professional certification does not belong in a curriculum. Professional Bodies should be responsible for the evaluation and issuing of such certificates. SAQA, who is responsible for the registration of Professional Bodies, should also be responsible for the approval and quality assurance of professional certification.

    This system will enable us to continue with the “old” unit standard-based qualifications, saving the government money and time and private providers immense frustration and uncertainty. In addition, it will enable unemployed people to obtain occupational qualifications and jobs, which is not the case with the current QCTO curriculum format and requirements.

    In closing, the current unit standards will, of course, still need to be reviewed because many of them are poor in terms of content, level, format and uniqueness. Scrapping them is not an efficient solution – reviewing them is.

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    Charlene Peens

    Very good discussion Hannes and all very relevant.  The whole QCTO idea was a very good on but as with everything else in South Africa – poorly executed!  I look forward to hearing comments on your post 🙂

    karen deller

    HI Hannes, I am not pro the QCTO curriculum model at all as I also feel it has been poorly constructed for ‘white collar’ job categories (it is, of course, pretty similar to the old artisan training model when people spent three months at college (called the theory standards now in the QCTO), then three months in the college workshop (practical standards in the QCTO model) and six months in the workplace who was paying for the artisan training (workplace standards in the QCTO model).  For blue collar it worked, but I doubt workplaces will be able to provide access to systems and resources to the unemployed to gain the workplace Statement of Results (the last of the three or four SoRs required to qualify for the external integrated summative assessment, after which one final gets the qualification award).   I am an employer and I don’t think I could employ a learner for a few months and give them access to all or data, records and clients so that the can practice what they learnt at college (and they would need a PC, a desk, etc.). The QCTO model is too complex and I agree that the few curricula i have seen are more like job descriptions.  I also worry about the potential for RPL in this system (QCTO has said previously (when i last engaged with them) that the fundamentals can not be RPL-ed and that each ‘silo’ provider (theory, practical and workplace) will  not need to employ assessors so no viable RPL can take place there (RPL candidates fare poorly on exams generally, so they probably will not make it through the EISA either).  So it does not look good.  

    What also worries me is the opinion of one of the SETAs that they now have to apply the new QCTO curriculum rules to legacy qualifications even if the legacy qualification stipulates no workplace.  We are being told by this SETA that no learners can enroll on a  ‘legacy’ qualification unless they are in a relevant workplace where they can do the workplace component that the SETA feels is required by an occupational qualification.  This is despite a directive from both the QCTO and SAQA telling them that they have misunderstood and that legacy qualifications do not require a learner to be working in a relevant business in order to enroll.  Potentially this means that no unemployed learner can ever be enrolled on a legacy qualification again.  (I am not saying learnerships as I know being on a learnership requires a workplace – I am saying that the SETA insists they be employed in a relevant job simply to complete any legacy qualification).  The SETA appears to misunderstand the difference between legacy qualifications and new QCTO style qualification and is applying the new QCTO type rules (selectively though as they still require us to have assessors and know there is no AQP) to legacy qualifications.  (so if a learner loses their job they would then have to drop out of the training – I am sure that is not what was intended).  All very concerning and despite the oversight role of QCTO and SAQA I am still trying to sort it out.

    Hannes Nel

    Karen, The plight of the unemployed is of great concern to me. The second issue that needs careful consideration is the complicated system. Complicated seldom works. Although most certainly not the ideal system, I feel that we can at least follow the higher education model for occupational learning providers. Let’s leave professional certification to the Professional Bodies. All organisations need to employ people and if you employ them, they will gain expertise through experience. Somebody needs to recognise such experience for many different reasons. We need to start somewhere.

    Suzanne Hattingh

    I just want to add my voice to the criticism of the QCTO qualifications model. I really tried from the inception of this model to raise these and other concerns, but the designers of the model stubbornly resisted any criticism. I raised my concerns to the designers of the model, in the press, in Skills Portal, at conferences, to employers – anywhere I was given a voice. I strongly raised concerns at the hearings of the committee that was set up to review the model, and found them to be in agreement with the dangers I and others raised. Unfortunately, it does not seem that the findings of this committee were taken forward – because if they had been, there should have been fundamental changes to the model. There are such glaring problems with the model that anyone with an open mind and a commitment to the skills revolution cannot ignore. I predict that the model will be found to be unworkable in a few years’ time and radical changes will be made – but not after serious damage has been done.

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