/ 27 March 2023

Training for the workplace: A giant leap forward

Minister Of Higher Education, Science And Technology Dr Blade Nz
Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Dr Blade Nzimande

The new Occupational Qualifications properly link with both the needs of Industry and the conventions required by Education and Training Institutions

Dramatic changes are taking place in the field of education and training for the workplace, and these changes begin (but certainly don’t end) with the NationalQualifications Framework (NQF).

The NQF is the repository of all qualifications in South Africa; it defines both the pathways for progression from one qualification to another and the relationships between the various qualifications.

To deal with the three distinct types of learning — schooling, academia and vocational education — the NQF is divided into three sub-frameworks. The sub-framework designed to house qualifications intended for use in and for the workplace is known as the Occupational Qualifications Sub-Framework: the OQSF. The body responsible for this sub-framework is the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO), one of the three statutory education
quality councils in South Africa.

Training in and for the workplace in South Africa has faced many challenges, and the dire state of employment in the nation alludes to this fact. Before the transition to democracy, such training was regulated by the Manpower Training Act of 1981, which was repealed in 1998 in favour of the Skills Development Act. After 1998, training for the workplace became dominated by qualifications based on “unit standards” — small, independent units of learning
that could theoretically be combined into qualifications once enough credits had been awarded. While this was sometimes successful, in the main the disparate and disconnected nature of the unit standards made stable curricula and uniform quality nearly impossible to implement consistently.

This issue was tackled by Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, who issued the Determination on 24 December 2020 that legacy qualifications based on the unit standards would be phased out. In preparation for this, the QCTO has been priming the system for the new Occupational Qualifications — vocational training based on planned curricula and embedded in qualifications developed “by industry and for industry”. A
central part of this project has been the revision of the OQSF to reflect the status of the new occupational qualification types, and to provide clear guidance for learners and employers about how these qualifications articulate with the workplace, as well as with further studies.

While the QCTO has been working hard to develop the required occupational qualifications, and part qualifications and skills programmes for the sector in concert with Industry and the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs), the organisation has also recently celebrated the milestone of the Gazetting of the Revised Occupational Qualifications Sub-Framework (OQSF) Policy, on 29 October 2021, by Minister Nzimande.

The first thing an observer will notice about the Revised OQSF is that it now reflects the structure and terminology of the larger NQF system. This revision of the subframework goes far beyond just a cosmetic overhaul, as previously all qualifications at every level of the NQF resulted in an Occupational Certificate. At Level 6 of the NQF, for example, Diploma-level qualifications are offered, but on the previous OQSF these were described as Occupational
Certificates — and this was true at all NQF levels.

This problem of undifferentiated terminology left learners and institutions with a conundrum, as it was extremely unclear what the intended level of a qualification was, and whether it linked up with other qualifications on the NQF. The Revised OQSF corrects this issue so that at NQF Level 6 an Occupational Diploma is now offered, and the terminology at all levels of the OQSF has been corrected to reflect the wellunderstood naming conventions across the rest of the NQF.

Such an intervention was crucial to ensure that the Occupational Qualifications on the OQSF can properly link with both the needs of Industry as well as the conventions required by Higher Education institutions. A learner wanting to enter the workplace should not face the challenge of trying to explain to the HR manager that his or her Occupational Certificate counts as a Diploma if one interrogates the NQF. Indeed, the work of the QCTO and the other Quality Councils is intended to make the NQF and its complexities transparent for society at large, and part of this task is to provide the nation with education that makes sense and doesn’t require any knowledge of abstract policies and unconventional naming conventions.

The Revised OQSF is far more than just a cosmetic change. The revision of the Occupational Qualifications to match the new naming conventions also allows the organisation to ensure that important new developments are included in the updated suite of qualifications. Issues such as digital skills and soft skills, both essential for the modern workplace, are being embedded within the qualification offerings. With the end of the Unit Standards, it allows
the QCTO to ensure that qualifications are based on sound curricula that are planned and constructed in consultation with industry.

Graduates from the Occupational Qualifications Sub-Framework (2021) will receive qualifications that include the fundamental components of practical, knowledge and workplace standards that ensure that graduates are not just “work ready”, but emerge from the qualification with real experience of the workplace. Whether a learner aims to study further or obtain immediate employment, the OQSF provides these pathways to a better life.