Quality Council on Trades and Occupations briefing on role and challenges

Higher Education, Science and Technology

23 May 2012
Chairperson: Adv I Malale (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO) outlined its role and function. It was one of three quality councils in education, the others being Umalusi, who had responsibility of institutions falling under the Department of Basic Education, up to grade 12 level and the Further Education and Training Colleges,  and the Council for Higher Education, who oversaw quality at institutions of higher learning, including Universities of Technology. The QCTO was established as a separate public entity on 31 December 2010, reporting to the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), and was set up to ensure that occupational qualifications, involving workplace training, were registered, quality-assured and offered by reputable service providers. Although there were a few overlaps with the FET Colleges and Universities of Technology in respect of practical components of the courses, each of the Councils was a different and defined focus area. In the past, occupational education had lacked leadership and the QCTO was responsible for trying to stabilise that situation. It wanted to set national standards for development of each curriculum, and to quality assure the providers. Its mandate included advice to the Minister on policy matters, design, development and maintenance of occupational standards, quality assurance of the qualifications, and promotion of the National Qualifications Framework. The QCTO stressed that it wished to ensure that every qualification offered was of relevance in the  market place and would ensure employment of those who took those qualifications. There were three components to the curriculum, namely theoretical knowledge, simulation and the actual work experience, and it was working with a variety of industry related partners to develop the model and ensure industry’s buy-in. It was busy updating the N-subjects, trying to achieve better alignment and assessing the numerous qualifications. It was trying to ensure a smooth transition and phase-out of surplus qualifications, and to review what the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) had done in the past. Another area of work was Recognition of Prior Learning. For both this and “workplace training”, there were a variety of different interpretation and it was necessary to find a common understanding. QCTO urged that, particularly in regard to the growing area of health, it would be necessary for the education sector to ensure that sufficient healthcare personnel were trained to cope with the needs. QCTO said that its biggest challenge was funding, as it had only enough money to pay staff salaries, had no staff who could attend to accreditation themselves, and insufficient budget to implement programmes.

Members were concerned about the funding shortages, and wanted to see QCTO being able to implement programmes. However, a number of Members found the presentation unclear and sought clarity on the exact role of the QCTO, the possible duplication across the quality councils, whether the process was still in its transitional phases, and commented that, in respect of a number of issues, no time frames were set out. They commented that without these, it would be very difficult for the Committee to exercise oversight. Members were not sure how QCTO would take over some functions from the South African Qualifications Authority, if it would be dealing directly with the Sector Education and Training Authorities, whether service providers would be registered and what control would be exercised over them. A Member wondered if the different quality assurers were still relevant and commented on lack of synergy in respect of quality. Members also asked about the Board, expressed concern that some people were serving on a multiplicity of boards, wondered how the QCTO would ensure transformation in the system, and how and when it would market itself.

Members stood over the adoption of the minutes, and the Acting Chairperson was critical of Members who had not ensured that they had prepared for this in advance of the meeting.

Meeting report

Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QTCO) Strategic Plan 2012/13
Ms Joyce Mashabela, Chief Executive Officer, Quality Council for Trades and Occupations, noted that this Council (QCTO) was one of three quality councils (QCs) in South Africa, with the others being Umalusi and the Council for Higher Education (CHE). The work of the councils was to ensure that a sound education and training system existed in South Africa. The QCTO sought to ensure well developed occupational qualifications that were market-driven, and offered by accredited providers.

In the past, occupational education had lacked leadership, and the QCTO was responsible for stabilising that situation, by setting national standards for developing curriculums. A model that would govern all curriculums for occupational training had been developed, in line with the shift in focus away from development of qualifications, to development of a curriculum. This shift would highlight what must be included in the learning, and how long the learning should take.

Another important task of the QCTO was quality assurance. It would ensure that the providers offered a high quality, and a curriculum that could be properly assessed. The QCTO offered full time and part time qualifications, consisting of 120 and 25 credit points respectively.

The part time qualification could be finished in three months and was affordable and convenient to many South Africans. The opportunity to pursue shorter-period training was aimed at making people more employable. Ms Mashabela cited an example of a forklift driver, who could be employed at a warehouse, a dock or a mine. The person could start by driving, and then, through doing courses, move into doing electrical charging, servicing forklifts, and eventually upskill to the level of a mechanic.

The three quality councils had very different focus areas. The CHE provided oversight and quality assurance on the higher education system, Umalusi provided the same for the schools system, and QCTO provided the same services for workplace training.

The environment upon which the QCTO operated was multi-faceted and included looking after occupational training involving the industries, Further Education and Training (FET) Colleges, private providers and government entities.

Ms Mashabela said the definition of “occupational training” set out that it was hands-on work to produce a product. In the past, this was easy to see, but the growth in the services industries, and the rise of technology made this obvious at the present.

Ms Mashabela noted that occupational education systems were found throughout the world and in the Southern African region. A study was being conducted within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, to explore the possibility of a single regional vocational education system.

The mandate of the QCTO was to advise the Minister on policy matters, to develop, design and maintain occupational standards, to quality assure the qualifications, and to promote the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). The QCTO business plan was approved in October 2011, and it since been able to employ seven staff members. The desired organogram had 69 posts, but at present 28 had been filled. She noted that this had posed something of a challenge, and wanted to commend her staff for all the work they had done. QCTO was currently in the process of filling senior management posts, for which short-listing had been done.

Ms Mashabela noted that of the 28 filled posts at the QCTO, 11 were vacant and nine were occupied by staff seconded across from the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). This illustrated the QCTO’ current human resources capacity constraints. 44 job profiles had been graded and approved.

QCTO had been able to submit the strategic plan and the quarterly reports on time, had managed to fulfil its mandate of playing an advisory role to the Minister, and had commented on the Green Paper. The first QCTO accredited qualification had been recommended and approved by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). The qualification approval had strengthened the relationship with the International Examinations Board (IEB).

Ms Mashabela indicated that there were three components to the curriculum, of knowledge, simulation and the actual work experience. QCTO was working with a variety of industry related partners to develop the model. Industries must have faith in these qualifications, which was why QCTO sought to include them when creating the model. The assessments were also developed alongside the three components, and many stakeholders had been involved in this process.

One of the largest QCTO projects was updating the National qualifications and subjects, in partnership with Umalusi. There had been over 1 000 qualifications on the system, and transitional arrangements were necessary whilst the new system was being put in place. In addition, a process was needed to moved the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) from their previous task of quality assurance, and once again the QCTO had worked to ensure that the transition went smoothly.

Ms Mashabela noted that another operational imperative was the recognition of prior learning, and QCTO was committed to ensuring that assessment policies for the partners and providers included mechanisms for assessing and recognising prior learning.

She reiterated that the Strategic Plan had been submitted as required by the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA). She noted that some of the highlights included having qualifications recommended to SAQA, evaluating partners, ensuring good turnaround times and ensuring proper delivery by providers. Ms Mashabela noted that there was a large gap between what QCTO requested and what it finally received in funding. It was trying to mitigate this.

QTCO Chairperson's briefing
Ms Pheliwe Lolwana, Chairperson, QCTO, said that when the functions of the QCTO moved to the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), it was necessary to make it clear that QCTO would take care of occupational qualifications, and had to be distinguished from the FETs, which fell under the supervision of Umalusi. She highlighted the difference between vocational and occupational qualifications, noting that students learned through a variety of modules when taking vocational qualifications, but occupational qualifications were very specific and tied to a particular job.

Ms Lolwana confirmed that there were already numerous qualifications, and duplication, which necessitated QCTO systematically organising the system. QCTO regarded itself as a mediator who would protect the public from being awarded meaningless qualifications. This approach also necessitated a review of what the SETAs had been doing over the years, especially their qualifications and quality assurance. The system in the past had not been ideal, and many providers had been squeezed out during the accreditation process. It was now urgent to make a decision on how to simplify, and to make the system accessible and equitable.

”Workplace training” was one of the most vague and undefined concepts, and it was clear that there were varied understandings of what it meant. South Africa would have to engage with the concept and gain a common understanding.

QCTO, despite having been in existence for some years, still had a low public profile, and it was necessary to change that, and to inform the public about its work and the demand for its qualifications. She stressed that it was pointless to train people in a qualification for which there was no demand, whilst other occupational qualifications were needed, but were not recognised. Essentially, QCTO linked education and labour, and it must inform the public of the areas where demand existed.

QCTO was focusing on the most vulnerable group, of school-leavers, whether or not they had attained their Grade 12, for they found it most difficult to access the labour market.

Ms Lolwana said that now was the opportune time to steer skills development to areas of economic development, where demand for skills would be created. Some of these areas included the National Health Insurance (NHI), the Infrastructural Development Programme (IDP), and the manufacturing industry, all of which would require more skills as they grew. QCTO would need to understand which skills to prioritise in order to address the demand.

Ms Lolwana urged that the Committee consider assisting the QCTO with obtaining funding, noting that it could not allocate enough to implementing programmes, as the funding went almost exclusively to personnel expenditure. She was aware that it was difficult to source lump sum funding from the fiscus for a newly established organisation, but said that there was no point in establishing an organisation that could do nothing other than pay salaries.

Finally, Ms Lolwana addressed the specific issues around the NHI. Little had been said on staffing the NHI, and if the responsibility of producing health staff was left to the Department of Health, she felt that nothing much would be achieved. In other countries where national health schemes were sustainable, the training had been done by the education sector, and she urged the need for engagement at government level, to spell out how health personnel would be produced for the NHI.

Ms A Lotriet (DA) said that funding for the QCTO was of concern. She wanted to know if the Skills Development Fund could be another source of funding. She sought clarity on whether the process was still at a transitional phase, if the function of quality assurance would be permanently moved from SAQA to the QCTO, and, if so, when this would happen.

Ms Mashabela said there were no time frames set at the moment, but the registration period had been extended by three years. It was difficult to say when the processes would be completed because the QCTO was not yet sure of how many qualifications were involved. She added that it was only possible to attend to a certain amount, given the staff constraints.

Mr S Mayathula (ANC) said he struggled to understand the new structure. He asked who the stakeholders were, and what QCTO was doing to advise them.

Ms Lolwana replied that the colleges themselves fell under Umalusi, but QCTO also had some jurisdiction, although in the main it was involved around the work place and the institutional training. There had to be discussion with the other quality councils, to clarify the roles. The production of an artisan would be achieved by both the education institution and the trade centre. A similar situation also existed with the CHE in regard to the universities of technology. However, she wanted to emphasise that the QCTO was mainly working with the workplace training providers, and ensuring that the poor training given in the past was upgraded. At the outset, QCTO would have to look at those providers who had been accredited by the SETAs, and ensure that they were still relevant and sustainable. She made the point that in the past the accreditation system had not been an enabling one, depending too much on checking of standardised information.

Mr M Mpontshane (IFP) said he still failed to understand the exact role of the QCTO, especially its location within the broader qualification authorities, and asked for more clarity on this, explaining, in simple terms, what exactly the QCTO was, what it hoped to do, and how the Committee would exercise oversight over its work.

Ms Lolwana explained that there were different forms of training in the education sphere. Basic Education culminated at Grade 12, and all of that was administered by Umalusi. In the past, Umalusi had also been looking at the training colleges, and was still involved with the private FET colleges.

The Higher Education sphere included universities and universities of technology, which fell under the CHE. Finally, there was another form of education, focused on practical training, as provided by the SETAs and in the work place. This was now the jurisdiction of the QCTO. Each SETA had formerly seen to education and training quality assurance, development of learnerships, trades and accreditation of the service providers. These functions were now to be absorbed by the QCTO. It would not be directly involved in basic and higher education, but there were some areas where its work overlapped with the quality assurance being carried out by Umalusi and the CHE.

Ms Lolwana added that there was a challenge with some of the qualifications that were offered by universities of technology, as they were essentially occupational qualifications. The same applied to the FET Colleges, which were set up so that a person wanting to get an artisan’s qualification had to attend the FET College as well as undergo workplace training.

Mr L Bosman (DA) agreed with other members that the presentation had not set out clearly what the QCTO sought to do. There were a number of institutions trying to do quality control on education. The occupational oversight was in a disastrous situation, since many of the SETAs had failed to do the job effectively in the past.

Mr Bosman asked for clarity on the statement that the QCTO would take over the mandate of administering quality assurance from SAQA. He asked if this meant that QCTO would take all the delegated mandates from SAQA on all the occupational qualifications, and if it would deal directly with the SETAs.

Mr Bosman also asked what would happen to the service providers, if they would be registered, and how control would be exercised over them.

Mr Bosman also sought clarity on the statement that the QCTO would recommend qualifications to SAQA. He wanted to know if the number of quality assurance partners would be increased from 15, and how the system would work once it was rolled out.

Mr N Bhanga (COPE) said he also struggled to understand this new institution, and wanted to know on what specific tasks the QCTO management was focused. He asked what assurance it was doing at the moment, and how it intended to expand its work.

Ms Mashabela replied QCTO was gathering information on the kind of qualifications that were already in place, and this was the reason why the SETAs were engaged. The QCTO could not just put a whole new system into place, as that would destabilise what was in place already. Instead, it was doing baseline work to establish what was functional at the moment. The largest project was the work done with the SETAs on monitoring and evaluation.

At the moment, there were no staff to attend to quality assurance and so the challenge was to find quality assurance partners. At the moment, the QCTO staff could play only a supporting role, to ensure that those who were doing quality assurance were doing it properly, in accordance with the model that was developed.

Mr Bhanga said he would be interested to see the submission of the QCTO in the Education Green Paper, especially as it pertained to the number of quality assurers. He asked if the different quality assurers were still relevant, and commented that there seemed little synergy in the area of quality and recognition of qualifications.

The Acting Chairperson requested the delegation to speak in plain language and explain the work of the QCTO. She asked that the work of the QCTO be explained, as well as how it fitted in with Umalusi.

Ms Lolwana said although she sympathised with the people employed by the quality assurers, there was no need to have a multitude of quality assurers. Umalusi and the CHE played very different roles, and there was a need for assessment of occupational skills. It was not possible to put all these together without developing an occupational qualifications system. What currently existed was weak, because the SETAs had chosen, in the past, not to engage with the public institutions, but instead opted to use private workplace providers.

Mr Bhanga voiced concern about the Boards of institutions, and commented that some of the people serving on those boards in fact served on a multitude of boards in the educational sector, so were clearly not able to perform oversight, and he wondered if they had time to do any work themselves.

Mr Bhanga wondered if the QCTO had the capacity to spend the money that it was asking for.

Ms Lolwana replied that QCTO had been put together only in the past year, without staff, and yet so much was expected of it. It was stretched at the moment, and had too little capacity. This was something that would have to be improved in future.

Mr Mpontshane quipped that he wanted to know how much the Council members received per meeting.

Ms Lolwana retorted that she did not know, as she had a full time job to do at the University of the Witwatersrand. She said she would prefer to have fewer, rather than more meetings.

Mr Theuns Tredoux, Chief Financial Officer, DHET, replied that the remuneration of the Council and the Board members was based on an evaluation by National Treasury and the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA). Board members were remunerated at in the same category as other QCs, at an hourly rate of R400 for the Chairperson, and R325 for other Board members.

Mr Makhubela said the presentation was a challenge to those who would want to argue against setting up the QCTO. He commented that, in respect of Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL), there was a problem since institutions had not tended to focus on access, but on qualifications, and whilst it was clear that people knew how to do the work, they could not always pass the qualifications, and many businesses were not quite sure how to handle them. He thought it was up to QCTO to provide solutions to this problem.

Mr Makhubela also noted that Parliament’s focus was on transformation. The tendency was for service providers to associate with a certain brand name, which became linked to business, and they would not even been aware whether transformation was happening. If, for example, a course was provided for motor mechanics, the content of the curriculum would be determined by a motor manufacturing company, and the service providers would be linked such company. This was not the sort of linkage that led to transformation.

Ms Lolwana replied that it would be helpful to find ways of ensuring transformation in the system. A broad concept of “transformation” had been bandied around, and people applied different meanings to the word. However, there was a failure to establish direct links between projects and skills, and whilst many large projects were being run, the locals remained unskilled. South Africa needed to copy the example of Australia, where government would not issue tenders without linked conditions for training. Government money had to translate into production of artisans.

Ms Lolwana added that there could be merit in service providers working with companies, but again, there were not adequate conditions, and there was a need to expand and replicate the system. Using the example cited by Mr Makhubela, she said that in the motoring industry, it would be difficult for the public system to achieve the quality that could be offered by motor manufacturing companies. The best strategy would be to get into that sector, seek to complement the companies, and help them to expand.

Mr Makhubela said it would be also be useful to go beyond the specific investment areas isolated by government. If government talked the New Growth Path (NGP), Industrial Policy or the National Development Plan, these should be documentation to guide the work of the QCTO.

He commented that there needed to be a speedy conclusion on the funding model for the QCTO. It was not sustainable to have uncertainty for a long time. He agreed that it made no sense for the QCTO purely to employ people without getting out and actually doing the work that was within its mandate.

The Acting Chairperson sought clarity on those that the QCTO employed from various spheres, and asked what challenges were experienced, and how working relationships were harmonised.

Ms Mashabela replied that the SAQA and DHET staff had been linked with the QCTO for quite some time, and whilst they knew the systems well, they were not actually regarded as QCTO staff, because of human resource processes that had to be followed.

The Acting Chairperson asked how QCTO fitted with the universities of technology.

Ms Lolwana replied that South Africa did not have enough universities to accommodate all schools leavers. A suggestion had been made that the QCTO provide the qualifications that the universities were no longer offering in the FET Colleges, and there would also be further discussions with the universities of Technology on the qualifications that they offered. This would broaden the options for school leavers. However, it was not a plan that could be put immediately into effect.

The Acting Chairperson wanted to know if there were any marketing campaigns to popularise the QCTO.

Ms Mashabela replied that the idea was to promote the QCTO once a good system was in place, since the QCTO obviously wanted to promote itself as a clear and effective institution. At the moment, only one qualification had been registered, and others were in the pipeline. Whatever was registered would be a solid qualification, offered by partners who were looking to build up the nation, not themselves.

Mr Makhubela sought clarity on the credibility of occupational vocational qualifications. He cited Eskom as an example of an institution that trained electricians itself, and was reluctant to trust electricians trained at FETs. He asked if this was not setting the bar too high, and if it would not result in some poorly trained learners not being considered at all by the private sector.

Mr Bhanga commented that the presentation lacked clear time frames. When forming a new institution, based on a vision, there was a need to set targets of where that institution had to be, after a defined period. In addition, the Committee would need to be given time-bound targets, in order to measure performance, since it was interested in seeing achievements and outputs.

Ms Mashabela replied that the Information Technology system at QCTO needed to be dealt with, before coming up with qualifications. She reiterated that the QCTO lacked staff to do assessments, and until these processes were in place, it was difficult to commit to timeframes.

Ms Lolwana said the QCTO was established in 2010. However, when she was appointed as Chairperson, there was no budget, and no business plans, and QCTO was trying to operate out of an empty space in the DHET building. The Chief Executive Officer was appointed only in April, and only with her appointment had proper planning begun.

Ms Lolwana said that trade occupations consisted of the “N-component”,  the practical assignments, and the work experience. Public institutions were likely to be involved in the practical side. Consideration had to be given to how the state-owned institutions could provide a stepping stone. She reiterated that training should be limited to those areas where there was a quantifiable demand for the skills.

Mr Tredoux said that when the DHET “inherited” the SETA functions from Department of Labour, the QCTO had been operating similar to a directorate. It was listed as a public entity only on 31 December 2010. National Treasury had agreed that it should remain part of the DHET in 2011, and that roll-overs of budget would be allowed because of the late listing that did not allow for spending. These rollovers would be kept back so that there would be a surplus in place when QCTO was in a position to spend. A bid had been submitted to the National Treasury for increased funding in the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) period. Delays in spending were as a result of staff establishment. A number of positions had been advertised, shortlisting would start in the next week, and the appointments would hopefully increase the ability to spend. In addition, he noted that alternative sources of funding were currently being discussed with the finance committee of the QCTO. The most likely source could be to transfer a portion of the SETA levies to the QCTO, or to make an approach to the National Skills Fund.

He added that R4 million rand had been allocated for setting up the IT system, and that would happen as soon as a Chief Director was appointed to oversee that work.

The Acting Chairperson noted that this meeting had provided a background to the work of the QCTO, and it would be asked to present the finer details of the strategic plan and budget shortly.

Adoption of minutes
The Acting Chairperson noted the request of some Members to defer the adoption of Minutes, and urged that Members should prepare themselves thoroughly for the meetings, including reading through all documentation in advance. She pointed out that this was not the first time that matters had had to be postponed, and said that lack of preparation would not be tolerated in future.

The Committee agreed to defer the adoption to the next meeting.


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