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Effectiveness of the SDF is undermined by Legislation

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Dear Editor

The value, effectiveness, and potential of the SDF is undermined by a number of factors, including the skills development legislation itself.

I wish to express my views in response to your article entitled "SDFs are contributing to their own demise', by Jim Freeman, posted on 21 June. Although not an SDF, I wish to point out the following factors that, in my opinion, are contributing to the "dumbing down' of the SDF role, and undermining skills development in the country.

Firstly, it is my belief that the potential of the SDF to add real value to the business of skills development, has been doomed for failure from day one, even before the first SDF was appointed. This premature "demise' of the SDF is, in my opinion, as a direct result of the inhibiting role of the SDF as outlined in the skills development legislation (Skills Development Regulations of 2000 provided for by Section 36 of the Skills Development Act 97 of 1998).

The skills development regulations (and the current SDF unit standards) prescribe the role and function of the SDF as "to assist' and "to advise' the employer on skills development matters. Nowhere in the legislation, or otherwise, is the SDF given genuine responsibility and legitimate authority to ensure that effective and meaningful skills development actually does take place within the organisation.

The SDF can compile marvellous and wonderful Workplace Skills Plans until he or she is "blue in the face', but it is really meaningless, if the WSP is not implemented as comprehensively as possible. Employers are under no obligation to engage meaningfully with the SDF in order to pursue the goals of the WSP, and are in essence, under no legal obligation to fulfil the objectives of the WSP. The SDF is in effect, powerless to ensure that the goals of the WSP and NSDS are realised within the organisation.

Secondly, the contribution of the SDF is not generally regarded as significant for the achievement of the enterprise?s strategic goals. The appointment of an SDF is perceived as merely the fulfilment of a legal obligation imposed on designated employers. This negative attitude towards the value of the SDF to the organisation is exacerbated by the emphasis placed upon the compilation of the WSP, QMR and the ATR as the core functions of the SDF.

The general emphasis on the compilation of these "meaningless', and often superficial documents by the SDF not only hinders the SDF from adding real value to the organisation, but also directly contributes to the negative perception of the SDF as merely an administrator for legal compliance by the organisation. The constant emphasis on the compilation of the WSP/ATR documents by the SDF also perpetuates the perceptions of skills development as merely a "paper-exercise.'

The crucial role of the SDF in ensuring meaningful implementation of skills development initiatives within the organisation should be given precedence in skills development legislation, over the SDFs obligations to compile WSP documents.

Thirdly, the skills development legislation makes provision for the SDF as the "contact person' between the SETA and the employer. Does this not contribute to the notion of the SDF as a "messenger' between the two parties, and does this not reinforce the perception of the SDF as merely an administrator within the organisation, with no real value to add? The SDF is certainly most suitably positioned not merely as the "contact person' between the employer and the SETA, but to add real value to skills development within the organisation by being given legitimate and genuine authority and accountability for effective and meaningful skills development within the organisation.

Suffice to say that the calibre of the current SDF is a precise reflection of the general expectations of the SDF function in respect of compiling WSP?s and ATR?s, nothing more and nothing less. "Where much is given, much is required.' Not much has been required of the SDF in terms of the function and role of the SDF, and certainly not much has been given to SDFs in the way of genuine authority, responsibility and support for effective skills development. Neither has much been given with regard to the professional development of the SDF to assume a more significant role within the skills development arena.

It appears however, from recent debate, that "more' is being required of the SDF, more value, more meaningful skills development, and more impact on NSDS targets. This is rightly so. However, to achieve this, "more' must be given to the SDF to do the job at hand. More significance needs to be given to the role of the SDF than that of WSP and ATR compiler, more recognition by all role-players of the crucial role and positioning of the SDF for effective and meaningful skills development, more responsibility and legislative authority in respect of skills development implementation, more support, and more functional resources for genuine skills development within the organisation.

Skills development is crucial for the country?s economic growth and development. The survival and strategic positioning of the SDF to contribute meaningfully to skills development remains imperative. Legislative professionalism of the SDF occupation may be a panacea to counter the negative effects of the "dumbing down' of the SDF role. Professionalism of the SDF role will not only ensure the continued survival of the SDF, but also the professional development and expertise of the SDF to add value and contribute to meaningful skills development within the country.

By Claudelle Crick Dunn

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