The Quality Council for Trades and Occupations Dilemma: Are Learnerships at Risk?
Rajan Naidoo, Managing Director of EduPower Skills Academy

A Critical Assessment of the QCTO’s readiness to implement Occupational Certificate Programmes

With the expiration date of SETA-accredited learnerships looming at the end of June this year, companies are at a critical juncture for their Skills Development. From that point forward, organisations will only be able to register their learners for the QCTO’s occupational certificates. The question that Rajan Naidoo, the Managing Director of EduPower Skills Academy, is asking is whether South Africa is adequately prepared for this imminent and nuanced change.

“This change comes with huge potential impacts for learners, training providers and corporates,” Naidoo explains. “The transition from the SETA to the QCTO has been a very long and uncertain journey and currently, there seem to be more questions than there are answers.”

Naidoo believes that the most pressing questions that need to be addressed by the QCTO include:

1. Do the QCTO qualifications meet learner needs?

The QCTO Occupational Certificates seem to have greater relevance than the SETA qualifications and they emphasise the relationship between qualifications and job titles, with direct relevance to the working world.

Concern, however, arises in the absence of equivalent NQF level occupational qualifications within the QCTO portfolio, especially for sectors such as Contact Centres where the Services SETA NQF level 3 and 4 qualifications have been ideal for unemployed learners. The looming expiration of these learnerships without adequate replacements raises questions about the readiness of the QCTO to directly address the needs of learners.

2. Will EISA and Examination Centre pricing be regulated?

The QCTO requires an examination (EISA) at the end of the training process after which a Certificate of Competency will be issued. This is a step up from the SETA assessment and moderation process, but the scarcity of examination centres poses a challenge as this could potentially lead to monopoly pricing. The QCTO should regulate or provide guidance for the pricing of the examination or at least ensure there are sufficient accredited examination centres so that market forces can regulate pricing.

An outcome of the EISA is that the role of Assessors and Moderators in awarding qualifications also appears less important under the QCTO, These processes, however, are still required and warrant clear guidance regarding the minimum requirements for Assessors/Moderators – similar to the SETA’s required Constituent Registration, which was a defined process.

3. What about B-BBEE?

The transition to the QCTO also raises reservations about the integrated alignment of legislation, particularly regarding B-BBEE budgets and SARS tax incentives. Learnerships have always been aligned with various legislative frameworks to enhance funding and outcomes. The QCTO's focus on Skills Development in isolation, therefore, requires other government departments to align their legislation accordingly. For corporates, learners and training providers, an integrated alignment is needed as soon as possible.

The longer duration and potentially higher credit requirements of QCTO qualifications compared to legacy learnerships could also pose challenges for B-BBEE verifiers. What also remains uncertain is how corporate credits will be awarded, especially considering the 12-month cycle traditionally aligned with learnerships and employment creation. This is not a QCTO issue but rather a B-BBEE authority issue.  However, given the substantial role corporate B-BBEE funding plays in learnerships and employment creation, this alignment must be taken into account.

And finally, SARS also needs to clarify the relevance of its SEC 12H tax incentives concerning QCTO qualifications.

Nevertheless, Naidoo expresses optimism regarding the QCTO's occupationally directed qualifications but contends that there are legitimate and necessary questions still to be answered about the readiness for implementation, particularly given the fast-approaching June 2024 deadline.

Naidoo concludes: “In the long run, the QCTO is going to benefit learners, training providers and corporates but in the short term, we may be in for a bumpy ride. The real losers could potentially be the thousands of unemployed youth who may no longer be able to access the learnerships they need.  And, considering that training of QCTO qualifications has already begun without these questions being answered, suggests that the QCTO and its agencies will not be prepared to implement some of the necessary provisions for the foreseeable future. Only time will tell.”