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The role of trainers in skills development

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Marietta van Rooyen

It seems to me that the role of trainers in the development of skills in South Africa is grossly underestimated. There are various reasons for this. In this article I will try to address these. In addition I will offer some solutions to enhance the status and skills of trainers in order to better address our skills gaps.

Historical Overview

Traditionally the position of trainers was prestigious and many line and technical people strived to become trainers. These persons were drawn to training by their passion for coaching and assisting others. This meant a change in their career paths and professional training as trainers in their field. Most of the best trainers came into the field along this route.

Becoming a trainer was thus the first step into a career in the HRD field. However, it always followed a respectable career in the technical or specialist field the person worked in up to that point. Eventually, if the trainer proved him/herself in their new career, it could lead to promotional positions such as a Training Manager or a specialist in the training of certain skills and knowledge.

What?s in a Name?

When the NQF was set up the word "Trainer' was somehow discredited and replaced by the rather ambiguous name of ETD Practitioner. This was a generic term used for teachers, trainers and developers. Due to the overwhelming numbers of teachers (later called educators), the role of the trainer was somewhat neglected. One official in the Council on Higher Education even remarked that "training is for animals'.

The design of the Occupationally Directed ETD Practices Certificate and Diploma prepared the way for the development of trainers in industry. It is known as the OD ETD qualifications. These qualifications have raised the bar for the training of trainers, but once again veered away from calling a trainer a trainer.

Legislative Environment

The different roles of trainers are often allocated to all sorts of people who take on one or more specific training duty in their workplaces. We need to distinguish between the training practitioner and the line practitioner taking on some training duties.

One of the most prominent roles taken on by people who are not necessarily trainers is that of the assessor. This is clearly not a role that should only be played by trainers. Line managers and supervisors also needed to assess the competencies of workers reporting to them. Provided they are experts in the field assessed, and trained as assessors, this is acceptable practice.

Even though assessors, mentors and coaches take on certain roles of her practitioners, this does not make them HRD practitioners. So how do we define what is required to be an HRD practitioner?

To be a legitimate assessor and moderator, you have to register with an ETQA. This still does not make them HRD practitioners. Although it legitimises the assessor, there was no official requirement for the professional registration of training practitioners as such.

To be accredited as a provider, the employer needs to show proof of competence of the facilitators, both in their field and as trainers. This was mostly left to the provider?s discretion and required a development plan for the training staff.

The Further Education Act expects private providers to register with the Department of Education as providers. The registration criteria required trainers/facilitators of the provider to be registered as ETD Practitioners with SACE, the professional body for teachers.

This caused many problems as many trainers are not qualified to register as teachers. SACE, being a professional body for teachers, is not equipped to register training practitioners.

Trainers in the Reviewed NQF

Due to the fact that the reviewed NQF will make a clear distinction between occupational, vocational and academic education and training, the learning and career paths of the trainer need to be clarified.

It is clear that the trainer in the workplace is involved with occupational education and training, and will therefore be responsible to the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO). However, there is no registration requirement yet for trainers per se, in any other role than the assessor and moderator.

Apparently the revised structures will not require private providers of occupational training to register with the Department of Education. Hopefully this constitutional requirement will be taken up by the Department of Labour.

The DoL may then insist that the trainers be registered somewhere. But where will trainers register and who will decide if they are well enough equipped to become professional trainers?

There is a Professional Body for Trainers

The SABPP is the logical professional body for HRD practitioners (trainers) and they have registered HRD professionals for many years. There is a special category of membership of the SABPP for HRD specialists. Current numbers registered in this field are Masters: 57, Chartered Members: 255, Practitioners: 183, Associates: 59 and Technicians: 13. Generalist HR practitioners can also function in HRD, which brings the numbers to 2 886.

SABPP has representation on the ETDP SETA Authority alongside SACE, in recognition of their status as a professional body representing trainers.

The duties of a professional body are to register practitioners as members of the body, to determine categories of membership and criteria for each, to set qualifications and standards where required and to revise standards and qualifications as required.

In addition the body recommends suitable continuous professional development. Professional bodies also have a communication vehicle to reflect legal matters concerning them, best practices and to commission research concerning the field.

The SABPP Board asked me to lead a Trainer (HRD) Committee. They have appointed members to the HRD Committee that will meet for the first time on 18 February 2008. On the agenda will be some of the matters discussed above, such as a name for the profession, how we can serve our members best and what future legislation will hold for them. One of the most important tasks is for the HRD Committee to determine the criteria for each category of membership and evaluate applicants against these.

For more details of the meeting, or if you are interested to register as a member of SABPP, please contact Huma van Rensburg directly at [email protected].

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