Old dogs, old tricks

Why waste critical resources ­teaching old dogs tricks they have long since mastered?

The South African labour force possesses a vast body of knowledge acquired through practice rather than classroom learning. All employers need to do is determine the extent of theoretical and practical knowledge that is already in place, then supplement it with training until the desired levels of competence are attained.

Many business-school graduates have been shown up on the job by shop-floor veterans with no academic pedigrees. However, while the hotshots proceed on an upward trajectory, the true professionals frequently remain stymied, their ambitions unfulfilled because their lack of a high school or tertiary qualification prohibits access to further education.

Employers, too, are unable to derive the full value of their proven expertise. It presents companies with the opportunity to “transform from within”, simultaneously complying with affirmative action policy and developing talent instead of acquiring it, while overcoming the problems inherent in appointing wet-behind-the-ears graduates to managerial positions.

Recognising the prior learning (RPL) of workers between the ages of 25 and 40 will not increase the number of jobs significantly, but it will address inequalities in terms of career progression.
“There are two basic scenarios for RPL: recognition for credits and recognition for access,” says Karen Deller, the academic director of the Prior Learning Centre.

In the first case prospective learners enrol at a private training provider which assesses their competence against the formal requirements for awarding a recognised qualification. These requirements are outlined as specific theoretical and practical outcomes, to each of which is assigned a number of credits.

Learners who received “full marks” for the workplace aspect of an outcome, but were lacking on the theory side, would have to go back to class until they met the academic requirements, that is, the credits were obtained.

However, current legislation does not allow this scenario to be played out in public education institutions — that is, the majority of colleges, universities and universities of technology.

Given that one of the greatest emphases of the National Skills Development Strategy 3 is expansion of the public further education and training sector, this is a huge drawback.

Learners take the “access” pathway if, for instance, they want to enrol for higher education, but do not have a basic qualification such as a matric exemption certificate.

Said Linda Buckley, the director of corporate learning at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business: “RPL in the university context evaluates and acknowledges the knowledge and skills candidates have gained other than through formal study to enable them to access higher education even though they don’t necessarily meet the normal entrance requirements.”

Candidates also have to follow the access route if they want to sign up for postgraduate programmes but do not have undergraduate degrees. In such cases, the university assesses not only on the basis of professional competence but also on the likelihood that successful completion of the programme will add value to their employers.

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