Skills Development Challenges: Quality means doing it right when no-one is looking

30 September 2014 - Ali Tambellini, Training Academy Manager, and Alana Perumal, Skills Development Facilitator, at Progression – a transformation-driven company specialising in Disability Employment Equity & Skills Development within corporate South Africa – provide insight into the challenges of implementing a Skills Development Strategy, the process involved, and their support of a QMS.

William Cooper Procter noted in the 1880’s that the profitability of an organisation is determined by three critical factors: productivity, cost of operations, and the quality of a product that creates customer satisfaction. Today’s modern workforce requires organisations to speak to the needs of both their internal and external customers. Quality in our workplace training must be a priority.

A Quality Management System (QMS) encourages employers to formalise their internal policies and procedures, and is essentially the total activities and decisions performed within an organisation that produce and maintain a quality product. When referring to Skills Development Strategies, it’s vital that the QMS ensures learning is stringently measured and speaks to an industry standard.

Lack of synergy between training and experience

A big failing point of many Skills Development strategies is that the work experience and theory training lack cohesion. What follows are candidates not being properly equipped with the tools needed to develop their careers. Companies may be complying with the legislative requirements, but they aren’t effectively speaking to the skills shortage and unemployment crisis.

The QMS offers two critically important solutions to this challenge. Firstly, employers will need to have the infrastructure in place to support learners as they complete their qualification. Secondly the infrastructure will require ongoing management and control, ensuring that it speaks to the standard industry practices, which the learner is operating in, while acquiring the workplace experience.

The need for clarity

The Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) are currently only vetting the QMS of Training Providers wishing to become accredited through that particular SETA, as well as employers applying for funding. This practice varies between the SETAs, with only a fraction of the SETAs reviewing the QMS of a particular employer. It is still unclear where the responsibility lies in terms of ensuring consistency in the process of quality assuring the workplace component of training interventions being implemented. Many organisations question the need for a QMS, particularly Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Several of these organisations are struggling to comply with current Skills Development legislation and feel overwhelmed by the administrative requirements involved in implementing training programmes in the workplace. The benefits of a QMS system may not be clear, and they find committing already limited resources to be a challenge.

Cautiously optimistic about the future

We agree that a QMS makes good business sense and is necessary for driving sustainable Skills Development. However, in order for it to be effectively implemented there needs to be accountability from all participating stakeholders. This ensures that the learner is equipped with the appropriate experience and exposure to operate productively in the open labour market, while equipping the employer with competent staff. Incentives towards compliance may assist in this regard.

We are cautiously optimistic about SMEs appreciating the value of a QMS and how it can benefit their bottom-line. We are further encouraged by the dialogue taking place between the Department of Higher Education (DHET) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). Their joint perspectives may create the balance required for the successful implementation of future Skills Development initiatives in South Africa. 

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