Excitement mounts as QCTO policy firms

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By Jim Freeman

While apparent intra-governmental wheel-spinning continues to bedevil establishment of the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO), details are emerging of an educational structure radically unlike anything anywhere in the world.

For the first time, business can look forward to demand-led education that is responsive and tailored to the needs of the economy. When it eventually gets off the ground, the QCTO will dramatically change the lives of all skills and organisational development professionals.

The delays revolve around the appointment of the QCTO board. Two months ago, the Department of Labour said nominations for members had been received from all constituencies except organised labour. However, union sources this week insisted they had never been invited to submit a nomination.

They said they were trying to schedule a meeting with the ministers of labour and higher education and training - under whose authority the QCTO is expected to fall - to discuss this and other skills development issues.

The deeper problem, however, is that the underpinning legislation (the Skills Development Act as amended last year) stipulates that the council falls under the authority of the minister of labour.

The amendment was promulgated before this year?s post-election cabinet reshuffle which saw the creation of the Department of Higher Education and Training. It was subsequently announced that this department would henceforth assume authority for the sector education and training authorities (Setas) as well as all matters pertaining to vocational training.

Effectively, the law has to be changed again. This makes it extremely unlikely that the QCTO will be functional by its initial target date of April 2010.

Nonetheless, the QCTO task team has forged ahead with its work and a draft policy has been formulated and awaits adoption by the board.

Describing the proposed occupational learning system, the draft policy states that "the Skills Development Act was amended in 2008 to implement a comprehensive approach to skills development and meet labour market needs.

"The changes provide a framework within which existing role-players can operate in . a demand-led occupational learning system. This revised system aims to address the skills crisis that is negatively affecting the achievement of South Africa?s employment, productivity, economic growth and social goals.

It adds that the role of the QCTO within this system is to ensure the "availability, relevance and quality of occupational qualifications to meet industry needs.' Central to the council?s function will be establishment of an occupational qualifications framework (OQF).

This sets the parameters for the development and quality assurance of "fit-for-purpose' qualifications that reflect occupation-specific industry requirements at all 10 levels of the National Qualifications Framework.

According to the draft policy, "the QCTO responds to industry needs by using occupations and specialisations within occupations as the basis for the development of occupational qualifications.

"The purpose of an occupational qualification is to qualify a learner to practice and occupation, or a specialisation related to an occupation - not to qualify a learner in a field of learning.

"An occupational qualification defines the learning required for occupational competence and includes three forms of learning; knowledge and theory, practical skills and work experience.'

This means that the development of occupational qualifications will be demand- and not supply-driven. Any employer, employer- or employee body, professional association, non-governmental organisation or Seta (acting on behalf of any industry) will be able to apply to the QCTO to initiate development of qualifications.

It is a radical departure from the system that developed the current qualifications that have been at the core of Seta activities for the past decade. The standards-generating bodies that scoped these qualifications were often populated by training providers who, rather than completely review their programmes for their occupational relevance, adjusted the outcomes to suit themselves.

With the QCTO, says the draft policy, "expert practitioners from the occupation in question will develop the occupational profile. This will ensure relevance and fitness-for-purpose.

"Occupational curriculum development will be based on standardised processes, procedures and systems in order to ensure consistency in approach and the final products.'

A series of "what?s in it for me' workshops detailing the workings and benefits of the QCTO to employers, skills development practitioners and training providers is being held around the country.

The next two events take place at the Killarney Country Club in Johannesburg on August 25 and the Durban Country Club on September 1.

Anyone wanting details can contact Lauren Kotze at [email protected] or calling 021 - 6850451.

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