Posted on: May 16, 2011 Posted by: Diane Swarts Comments: 0

Legislation and structural change again disrupt the skills standardisation framework, just two years after Seta training amendments took effect in 2011.

Some South African sectoral education and training authorities (Setas), or training councils as they are known in some countries, have collapsed under poor governance, while some have been doing good work for most of 10 years, including the Services Seta where occupational health and safety training standards and relevant enforced funding are managed.

Suspended Services Seta CEO Dr Ivor Blumenthal was incidentally poised to guide quality management audit practitioners to professionalisation, before he fell victim to politicization of the amendment process.

SA Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) minister Blade Nzimande seems bent on politicising state authorities and training councils by using the long-running constitutional amendment process of sectoral education and training authorities (Setas) to install party loyal board members and executives, and to suit skills programmes to political ends.

DHET had transferred Services Seta funds to the National Skills Fund (NSF), was sued, and ordered by return the training funds. The saga continues.

Dr Blumenthal had last year intended to apply training legislation, and a draft SAQA policy on professional bodies, to force rival quality auditing bodies to merge in 2011, as reported by SHEQafrica on SHEQafrica.com in 2010 (see report titled ‘Quality managers plan registration body’, which is recapped in part this report).

SAQC planned

Quality managers, consultants, trainers and auditors aim to form an umbrella federation board for professional development and registration, to start work in 2011 on setting quality training and practice standards.

The proposed SA Quality Council (SAQC) would include organisations relevant to testing, inspection, certification, accreditation, and auditing, like SA Quality Institute (SAQI), itself representing nine bodies, auditors registrar SAATCA, SASQ, assurance body SANAS, and other assessment bodies.

A voluntary Quality Management and Conformity Assessment Chamber board was already formed three years ago, and taken under Services Seta industry chambers patronage in 2010, aiming to standardise training, as well as to assess and register quality management assessors.

Services Seta CEO Dr Ivor Blumenthal was confident in 2010 that he could convince remaining rival quality assessment bodies, and potential professional registrars, to join the planned voluntary umbrella body.

Training accreditation framework in limbo

Training accreditation consultant Fiona Cameron-Brown writes in her circular of the training sector’s concern over developments about a political wrangle over Services SETA constitution amendments.

She comments on principles driving training authority structural revision in the last 18 months, initiated by the need to standardise SETA constitutions and tighten SETA governance.

“There were also questions about the size of some SETA boards, and board remuneration… and these were welcome”, writes Fiona Cameron-Brown.

“What seems to be playing itself out around the Services SETA is undermining of bodies that were established as autonomous, but accountable in terms of relevant legislation like Skills Development Act and Skills Development Levies Act.

“It strikes me as perverse that one of the SETAs that has adequately fulfilled its mandate, is put under administration because it uses legal challenge to steps by the Ministry of Higher Education and Training (DHET). Is this how things should happen in a democracy?

“That the Services SETA CEO has been personally threatened as a consequence of SETA actions, is alarming. Bullying tactics should be nipped in the bud before we leave school. Adults should engage in dialogue and debate, and come to a solution to suits the needs of skills development and the people of South Africa, even if that debate must be mediated in court.”

Training laws to change yet again

“While the court found in favour of the Services SETA, DHET intends to appeal this judgement. DHET also makes reference to planned sweeping legislative changes”, writes Cameron-Brown.

“We have just spent two years waiting for amendments to the Skills Development Act and NQF Act to come into full effect, and full operation of the QCTO. The training environment is charactarised by a sense of limbo and uncertainty. Can we afford uncertainty to carry on?

“Reform is necessary, but skills authorities, or councils as they are known in other parts of the world, can make a vital contribution to skills development in South Africa. We have had SETAs for more than 10 years and some have done good work.

“Riding rough shod over them puts us in danger of losing institutional depth, knowledge and skills in technical and vocational education and training.

“I hope it is possible for training stakeholders to take a step back and look at what needs to be done in a rational way, not tied up in personal agendas, with the interests of South Africa, her people and our economy at the centre.”

SHEQ professionalisation delayed

Dr Blumenthal, suspended while legal battles between government and the statutory body continue, warned last year that “floodgates for registration of professional bodies open in June 2011”. He believed that a quality umbrella body should be mandated by government, and could then fund itself from charging for professionalisation services.

Qualifications containing quality elements, as listed on the Saqa website, total close to 5000, most being industry specific. Standardisation could bring some order and public trust to this training sector.

The proposed SAQC would register quality professionals, practitioners, management system consultants, managers, auditors, engineers, metrologists, students, and trainers.

SHEQ is a quality profession

Safety and environmental management practitioner organisations would be welcome to join SAQC. Bodies under the umbrella board would retain their functions, and demarcate some functions to prevent duplication, but pofessional designations and registration becomes a function of the umbrella board.

Registrars are not allowed to offer training, and training providers are not allowed to offer registration services, in terms of the Saqa professional designations policy draft that was out for comment in October 2010, and is due for publication.

Several quality management training providers claimed rights to sell or issue professional designations, without SAQA sanction.

“Some other organisations also claim to represent professional groupings that include quality managers, as part of their focus,” Dr Blumenthal said.

The Services Seta, under Dr Blumenthal, posed the quality assessment profession with three options for professionalisation, underwritten by the state via Saqa;
* Choose one existing body to represent the profession
* Combine existing bodies under a new federal umbrella board
* Allow any body with a critical mass of membership and standardised criteria to represent its members.

Quality assessment specialists support the ‘federal umbrella board’ option. “If a stalemate ensues, Saqa would force competing organisations to collaborate”, Dr Blumenthal warned.

SAQC provisional chairperson Patrick Mclaren said a colloquium would be called in 2011. There have been several attempts to professionalise quality management and auditing practice in the last 15 years, separate from an impasse in safety practice and quasi medical bodies serving occupational health and hygiene practice.

‘Professional rubber stamps’

Some quality management practitioners fear that ‘board’ exams would be open to abuse, could add nothing to the skills of practitioners, and may constitute merely a licence, to sell licenses to practice.

Several reports about rival bids to professionalise South African sheq practice, involving IoSM, Ohsap, Saiohs, Achasm, IWH, DOL ACOHS and a disputed Construction Regulations amendment, are posted on SHEQafrica.com

PHOTO; Suspended Services Seta CEO Dr Ivor Blumenthal was incidentally poised to guide quality management audit practitioners to professionalisation, before he fell victim to politicization of the amendment process.

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