Navigating South Africa’s implementation of the OQSF and occupational programmes- why meeting the 2024 June 30 deadline matters

By ​​Roland Innes, Group Chief Executive Officer at DYNA Training  

South Africa is at a crossroads of a significant educational and vocational transition as the implementation of the Occupational Qualifications Sub Framework (OQSF) and the roll-out of occupational programmes gain significant momentum. The CEO of the QCTO, Mr. Vijayen Naidoo, has announced that the transition is imminent and that existing legacy or unit-standard based qualifications will not be re-registered. Long anticipated but now undeniable, this shift carries substantial implications for various industries, employers, and training providers now referred to as Skills Development Providers (SDPs).

The National Qualifications Framework (NQF) is a comprehensive system for the classification, co-ordination, registration, and publication of articulated and quality-assured national qualifications. The NQF comprises three qualifications sub-frameworks for General and Further Education and Training Sub-Framework (GFETQSF), Higher Education Qualifications Sub-Framework (HEQSF), and. Occupational Qualifications Sub-Framework (OQSF).

At the heart of the NQF is transferability, quality and Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL), promoting flexibility and mobility in the education and employment sectors. Individuals who have acquired skills and knowledge through work experience or other means can have their skills and knowledge assessed and recognised as part of a qualification.

What makes occupational qualifications different?

Occupational qualifications are designed to equip individuals with the knowledge, skills, and competencies required to perform specific job roles effectively and efficiently. Central to the design of occupational qualifications are the inclusion of Knowledge, Practical and Work Experience modules.

The shift towards occupational qualifications on the OQSF may present a challenge for companies accustomed to providing legacy/ unit-standard based qualifications. The repercussions extend beyond individual learning journeys and extend to business, impacting B-BBEE scorecards, which need to be aligned to a new strategy for workplace education in SA. This makes it vital for organisations to reassess their training portfolios to ensure alignment with the OQSF framework, or to seek suitable alternatives for discontinued qualifications, skills programmes, or short courses. Skills Development Providers (SDPs) play a critical role in assisting organisations with the transition to occupational programmes.

Impending deadlines and consequences of qualification displacement

One of the most critical challenges in this shift is that legacy/ unit standard based qualifications  must be aligned to the rules of OQSF, and indeed the NQF. Several vital qualifications, such as generic management levels four and five and process manufacturing level four, lack equivalents in the OQSF at this moment, because occupational programmes are job specific. This creates a dilemma for organisations that had planned to enrol learners in these programmes, as the deadline for new enrolments is set for 30 June in 2024. Failure to adapt to the new landscape in time could result in penalties, negatively impacting a company’s overall scorecard and its ability to achieve its skills development goals.

The importance of initiative-taking strategies and contingency planning

The looming deadline is no longer a technicality or a possibility; it is a call to action. Organisations must concede that the transition has become a reality, which means that ignoring it is no longer an option. Even as the question arises as to whether the government will extend the deadline or re-register a few qualifications, the ensuing uncertainty can only highlight the need for an initiative-taking approach. In the face of such uncertainty, having a Plan B is non-negotiable. Organisations must explore alternative pathways within the OQSF.

Seizing opportunities and mitigating risks

The teach-out provision, allowing learners to complete their learnerships and unit-standard based qualifications until 30 June in 2027, is a lifeline for those who enrol before the deadline. However, the key is getting learners on board by 30 June 2024. The potential tax benefits associated with learnerships remain uncertain and may be subject to changes that organisations will need to track closely. In responding to the transition, skills development providers must play a decisive role, actively engaging with clients, identifying gaps in qualification alignment, and presenting viable options. Communication is key, and training providers should serve as guides through the transition, ensuring that clients are aware of the risks and opportunities that lie in the implementation of occupational programmes.

Toward a robust workforce and economic growth

Employers in SA benefit from occupational qualifications as they help create a skilled, competent, and legally compliant workforce. These qualifications lead to a range of advantages, including increased productivity, reduced training costs, and enhanced reputation, ultimately contributing to the success and growth of businesses and organisations.

While the transition may impact every sector, the degree of impact varies. It is essential for organisations across industries to recognise that this is not likely to be a seamless process. Delays, uncertainties, and changes in decision-making will be part of the transition.
Managing the risks of this shift is now crucial for all involved. The QCTO plays a vital role in ensuring a skilled workforce, driving economic growth for South Africa’s national development. Its efforts to standardise, develop, quality assure, and promote lifelong employability are essential for building a resilient and adaptable workforce that can navigate the challenges and opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution and beyond.

The unavoidable shift to transformation

The full scale implementation of occupational qualifications registered on the OQSF in South Africa is a reality that cannot be ignored. Organisations must act now, either by enrolling learners in existing programmes or by exploring alternative pathways within the OQSF. The time for complacency is over; the time for strategic action is now.

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