The Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO) presents a promising foundation for building a skilled workforce in South Africa. However, a vital question remains: how can employers ensure a steady pipeline of talent with the necessary skills, and what responsibility do they hold in achieving this?

By Roland Innes, group CEO at Dyna Training, and Leigh-Ann Revill, CEO and principal at Chartall Business College

The core issue lies in recognising that industries, by their very nature, are the architects of occupational needs. For this, a paradigm shift is needed. Employers need to take a proactive stance in contributing to occupational skills development programs to ensure alignment with industry needs.

This will need to be a collaborative effort that requires cooperation between businesses, professional bodies, associations, and Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs). By working together, these stakeholders can create programs that are not only relevant but also cater to the diverse learning styles of individuals and the specific skills requirements of organisations.

In this respect, businesses that invest in their workforce not only strengthen their own operations but also contribute to the health of entire industries and the South African economy.

Redefining the employer’s role from compliance to capacity building

The traditional employer mindset often views skills development as a tick-box exercise to comply with regulations. This focus on populating scorecards hinders the true objective: upskilling the greater workforce with the necessary capabilities.

South Africa requires a strong skills base for economic growth. Employers must shift their focus to building this base effectively, collectively, and efficiently, ensuring that skills developed align with economic needs rather than simply meeting compliance requirements. This transition from compliance-driven to capacity-building initiatives is critical.

The dangers of a one-size-fits-all approach

Solely relying on the QCTO sub-framework for skills development presents several challenges. Firstly, it risks creating a skills shortage and a skills mismatch. Without direct input from industry, the sub-framework might err in prioritising skills no longer relevant to the ever-evolving needs of industry.

Cutting-edge, innovative skills vital for differentiation in the modern economy might not be reflected due to the inherent lag in regulatory frameworks. Additionally, these sub-frameworks can be susceptible to political influence, potentially deviating from the actual skills required by specific industries and organisations.

While the QCTO sub-framework provides a valuable foundation, employers should leverage it as a base to develop additional in-house training programs to address their specific needs more closely.

A collective effort for success through collaboration

Sustainable skills development cannot exist in a silo, as businesses and industry are inherently interconnected. Viewing the QCTO as a separate entity solely responsible for responding to industry needs is a flawed approach as it isolates employers from the process and results in ineffective outcomes.

Here, SETAs play a critical role coordinating in this collaborative effort, acting as the voice of industry to identify sector-specific skill demands. Such a collective approach is necessary to ensure that resources and budget can be directed towards the most critical skills development areas.

The call to action for employers

As we prepare to transition to the QCTO Occupational Qualifications Sub-Framework, employers would be wise to bear in mind the following advice:

* Train for the industry, not just yourself – The primary focus should be on developing skills required by the broader economy, not just meeting the immediate needs of a single organisation. Collectively, we must assume responsibility for building a skilled workforce that can meet the needs of our growing economy.

* Embrace active participation – Employers must actively engage in shaping the skills development programs they would like to see on the OQSF. This includes collaborating with industry stakeholders, SETAs and the QCTO to ensure the curriculum reflects real-world industry needs.

* Shift from compliance to capacity building – Move beyond the mentality of simply meeting regulatory requirements. Focus on building genuine skills capacity at all levels within the organisation, to foster a more skilled and adaptable workforce.

By embracing a collaborative approach across industries and sectors, with employers at the forefront, South Africa can create a skills development system that is both effective and inclusive. This collective effort, with employers as architects of the skills landscape, is the key to unlocking a prosperous and equitable future for the South African workforce.