Editor's Choice

New legislation to affect skills ­development rebates

3rd Quarter 2015 Editor's Choice News & events

There are far-reaching legislative changes pending next year that will alter the current rebate system for skills development. Motion Control’s editor visited SAFPA council members, Hugo van Niekerk and Wessie van der Westhuizen to find out what the implications are for the fluid power industry and how SAFPA is meeting this challenge.

Back from l: Eugene Tondolo, Axiom Hydraulics; Hugo van Niekerk, Festo. Front from l: Jaco Venter, client liaison officer, MerSETA; Sinaye Mgidi, programme manager, curriculum and learning programmes development unit, MerSETA; Melanie Malema, Sparrow FET College.
Back from l: Eugene Tondolo, Axiom Hydraulics; Hugo van Niekerk, Festo. Front from l: Jaco Venter, client liaison officer, MerSETA; Sinaye Mgidi, programme manager, curriculum and learning programmes development unit, MerSETA; Melanie Malema, Sparrow FET College.

The Qualification Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO) was set up in 2006 in terms of the Skills Development Act 97 of 1997 to ensure that occupational qualifications involving workplace training are registered, quality-assured and offered by reputable service providers. Its aim is to ensure that every qualification offered is of relevance in the marketplace and those who take the qualifications have access to employment. QCTO is working with a variety of industry-related partners to develop this new model and ensure industry’s buy-in. The new framework will be implemented in June 2016.

SAFPA has over the years put substantial effort into skills development. Between 2006 and 2008 a team driven by Russell Gill and Walter Zimmerman developed full MerSETA-accredited qualifications for the fluid power industry for NQF levels 2 to 5, together with some training content. However although the qualification framework was in place, no training could be registered against it due to a lack of approved training providers; and despite the fact that SAFPA developed the training material, it had to become the property of MerSETA until an approved training provider was available. Because there was no uptake, the level 5 qualification has now been dropped by MerSETA with virtually no chance of it being resurrected and the others are under threat.

Another implication is that this new dispensation will affect a company’s ability to claim against the skills levy. The current skills development grants will only be allocated if they go towards an accredited skill, so these too are in jeopardy. A number of fluid power companies conduct high quality in-house training courses but they are not SETA-accredited. So in the workplace there are artisans who have been working for many years but have no SAQA-recognised qualifications, neither can they get recognition of prior learning (RPL). This situation applies not only to fluid power companies but also to their customers using their components.

Pirtek meanwhile had initiated a skills programme on hydraulic hose assembly in partnership with Sparrow FET College as part of its enterprise development programme. Wessie van der Westhuizen saw the link and approached the SAFPA council about a possible solution, as Sparrow has the necessary training resources and infrastructure, and being an approved institution can gain access to the MerSETA training material.

Against this backdrop SAFPA made an internal decision to embark on a strategic training initiative which is key to the sustainability of the fluid power industry.

With the new QCTO framework to be implemented in 2016, if there is no uptake of a qualification QCTO will not redevelop it. However, if there is movement on the current suite of qualifications at NQF levels 2, 3 and 4 this will prompt the QCTO to put a panel together and develop an occupational certificate. So it is very important to retain the current NQF standards. MerSETA is willing under an interim agreement to give an extension of these qualifications on the understanding that there are registrations in the very near future on these qualifications. So, there is a need for industry to commit to training in the short term to see it through the next three years and avoid a dead time while new QCTO qualifications are being developed.

While the short-term training is being taken up, industry can in parallel develop the QCTO qualification that is coming onto the table within the new framework. This will provide continuity and ensure a flow of learners over three to five years. Under QCTO they will then have a proper occupational certificate like an artisan; but levels 2,3 and 4 need to be in in place to make this happen. QCTO would require industry to commit to longer-term training with a panel of industry experts developing new qualifications, not from a theoretical, academic perspective but from an industry perspective – it needs to come from industry.

This was the trigger for an industry meeting. At a recent SAFPA technical evening the concept was presented to members by Melanie Malema from Sparrow FET College. This was followed up by a kick-off meeting held on 23 June with representatives from MerSETA and Sparrow College. An excellent turnout was recorded with 59 delegates representing 22 fluid power companies. All the major players were in attendance, as well as smaller owner-run businesses, with some coming from as far as the Eastern Cape. After the formal proceedings were completed, those present resolved by a show of hands that SAFPA should continue with this venture. “The only way to save the qualifications is to buy into the importance of training,” said Malema. “If Sparrow becomes the training provider of choice we will be able to handle all the SAQA formalities and also assist with claiming BEE benefits in line with the new BEE scorecard regulations.”

Led by Hugo van Niekerk, SAFPA’s education subcommittee is currently working with Sparrow College to draft a project plan to present to SAFPA. This will include the financial implications and will be a sustainable model for industry to get back on track.

“We plan to take a test group through levels 2 to 4,” he says. “This will give us time to develop the content in parallel as we go along. We will work with Sparrow to see how much of the training material content needs to be developed, starting with level 2. We also want to ensure that we get an RPL framework in place so this will be part of the process.”

Van der Westhuizen adds that a big portion of the programme will be practical, with theoretical, simulation and workplace experience modules on the curriculum. Another benefit is that companies will be able to claim the full amounts permissible from the skills development levy grants.

“We urge the fluid power industry to commit to this qualification programme,” concludes van Niekerk. “It is of value to both companies and employees and is critical to the long-term sustainability of the industry.”

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