Addressing industry skills shortages by engaging in the new QCTO framework

In its global risk barometer for 2022, international financial services provider Allianz surveyed 2,650 risk experts in 89 countries on the biggest perils facing industries in the coming year. Notably, skills shortages were identified as the eighth biggest risk in South Africa currently. Our economic recovery and growth in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic will depend largely on our ability to address skills shortages in the labour market and the workplace. Companies and individuals should make the most of every opportunity to develop skills, and to align these skills with the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO). Responsible for the oversight of the accreditation, implementation, assessment, and certification of occupational qualifications, part-qualifications, and skills programs, the QCTO has a major role to play in tackling skills shortages, placing vocational certification by means of learnership and apprenticeship programs at the centre of South Africa’s skills creation system.

Urgent need for practical skills and artisans

There has been an increased demand worldwide for artisans, engineers and technicians along with individuals skilled in sales and marketing. This highlights the fact that practical skills are urgently needed in the labour market and that there should be an increased focus on training artisans. South Africa’s QCTO was established to manage the Occupational Qualifications Sub-Framework (OQSF) by setting and developing standards, while assuring the quality of national occupational qualifications. The purpose of the OQSF is to facilitate the development and registration of quality-assured occupational and trade-related qualifications, part-qualifications and skills programmes from the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) Level 1 to 8. This is intended to meet the needs of existing and emerging sectors by ensuring that all learners, professionals, workers, unemployed and those classified as NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training), are equipped with relevant and transferable competencies to enhance lifelong employability.

Win-win for businesses and labour market

Ultimately the QCTO is intended to replace the Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA), while closing the gap whereby individuals in the labour market have the skills but lack the formal certifications or paperwork necessary to find employment or to maximise earning potential. While higher-level qualifications are essential, it is also necessary to address the immediate gap that stands between an individual coming out of school and becoming eligible to embark on the national qualification process.

To this end the QCTO has implemented skills programmes, effectively a shorter skills syllabus, at the end of which a learner can gain entry into a qualification or a part-time qualification. This also has the immediate benefit of making the individual more employable. In addition to increasing and keeping their own skills in-house, businesses can contribute to the career development of their people which provides a greater level of motivation and incentive. Skills development training also assists with reducing absenteeism where workers feel that the training they’re getting is valuable to their personal growth, contributing to a more committed workforce. Where companies offer skills development opportunities, it becomes possible to redirect budget spend previously used for recruitment into training, shifting the focus to retention instead of acquisition.

The nitty gritty of the QCTO -how does it work?

As mentioned, the QCTO is responsible for the accreditation of Skills Development Providers (SDPs), authorising them to facilitate programmes and qualifications that fall under the OQSF. These include occupational qualifications including ‘old’ trades, N4-N6 Programmeshistorically registered qualifications, and the shorter, bridging skills programmesAny SDP offering training or intending to offer training in any of these must seek accreditation from the QCTO, and must comply with the entity’s minimum criteria.

Out with SETA, in with QCTO

From June 2023, SETA accreditation will be subject to a teach-out period, after which qualifications and skills programmes will need to be aligned with QCTO. This is a valuable opportunity for training providers to align their offerings to the QCTO accreditation standards, as that is the direction in which we are headed. It will be necessary to work hand-in-hand with industry leaders in developing learning material to ensure that the necessary knowledge is combined with practical experience, hands-on learning opportunities and assessments.

Additionally, a major focus of these skills development and training programmes will be ensuring that learners are placed at companies where they can gain experience and skills in the workplace, and ultimately take up employment after assessment and qualification. The output from SDPs will be assessed by Assessment Quality Partners (AQP’s), and it is the responsibility of the Assessment Quality Partner to sign off on the provider issuing a Statement Of Result to the learner which gives them entry to the Integrated Summative Assessment for certification.

Smarter approach to skills development

For companies to maximise this opportunity, both from a tax rebate and Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) scoring perspective, they will need to ensure that they coordinate training initiatives with SDPs that are accredited by the QCTO. SDPs will need to modernise their curriculum to be more learner-focused, while forming relationships with Assessment Quality Partners. In order to exit learners smoothly, organisations will need to prepare their workplaces so that they are compliant with QCTO requirements, developing the necessary mentoring infrastructure to enable those placements while giving learners the best possible support. In shifting the focus from generic skills training to inclusive learner development and facilitation through the QCTO framework, it becomes much easier to address South Africa’s skills shortage effectively and sustainably.

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