Training & Education


An examination of the current qualification options available to student engineers in South Africa

August 2018 Training & Education

Throughout the education and training process, the learner passes specific milestones on the way to becoming an engineering practitioner. The first is from the GET (general education training) phase into the FET (further education training) phase. On completion of the GET phase, the learner can choose to remain in the formal education sector or join the vocational route. During this transition, if the learner chooses to remain in the formal education sector, they will determine their career path by choosing a course that comprises the curriculum pertinent to their career choice in school. Alternatively, they can choose to join a skills programme. In this option, the learner undergoes intensive occupational-based training in order to occupy a skills-based position in industry.

Ralph Naidoo.
Ralph Naidoo.

The second milestone is the paradigm shift from FET into the HET (higher education training) phase, in the formal education sector. At this important transition point, the learner transfers from school to either a TVET (technical and vocational education and training) college, or a university. The choice of the TVET College offers a career route in vocational opportunities. If the learner chooses the university option, there is a choice of either a technical or an academic route. In the technical route, the learner is expected to complete specific industry-based modules, served in industry, to comply with the qualification requirements. The academic route is strictly classroom-based. In order to complete the first qualification in the university sector, the learner graduates to occupy positions in the categories of technician, technologist or engineer.

The discussion in this article focuses on the third milestone in a learner’s career, i.e. from education into industry. This occurs at one of two stages. The first is for learners who choose to transit from education into a skills programme, and the other is for learners who transit from education to industry via one of the various study routes.

1. Skills programme

For learners who prefer a purely hands-on engineering route they can exit school with a GETC (general education and training certificate), which is pitched at NQF 1 (national qualification framework) or Grade 9, to enter a skills programme that commences at NQF 2. This could be in the form of a learnership, internship or apprenticeship programme over a one to four year period. The difference in the programmes is the funding models and the types of contracts between a learner and/or training provider/employer.

The learner enters the programme for an allocated period of time, firstly in the classroom to cover the theoretical concepts. Thereafter, (s)he enters a practical training environment applying knowledge under simulated conditions. After passing the required competency assessments, the learner enters the work place to apply the knowledge and skills in the real world. This combination of acquiring knowledge and skills will normally be covered within a 12-month period, completing a full NQF level programme of 120 credits. After successful completion of each NQF level, a certificate is issued verifying the learner’s competence, for articulation or progression to the next level. This option has been designed to bridge the gap between education and industry at an elementary level, to provide skilled labour for first-line engineering positions as artisan aides, at the bottom level, or artisans at the top level, to perform the functions of a qualified engineering practitioner.

2. Vocational education

For learners who prefer a vocational engineering route they have the first option, when they exit school with the GETC or Grade 9, to enter a TVET College on the Nated (national accredited technical education diploma) programme at NTC 1 (national technical certificate) or N 1. The second option is to exit school with the NSC (national senior certificate), or Grade 12, to enter the Nated programme at NTC 4 or N 4.

Analysing the two options is as follows:

Option 1: the learner will exit school at Grade 9 to bridge the gap between education and industry by grasping engineering concepts at an earlier age, as the subject content is industry orientated. The programme commences at NTC 1 (N1), proceeding to NTC 2 (N2), then to NTC 3 (N3). At this stage, NTC 3 is equivalent to matric, where the learner can complete two languages to obtain an equivalent school-leaving qualification, referred to as an Abridged Matric Certificate, allowing entry into a UoT (university of technology). Alternatively the learner has the option of entering into a skills programme, e.g. an apprenticeship or leanership.

Option 2: the learner can complete matric at school with the NSC and proceed to the TVET College at NTC 4 (N4). From the N4 level there is progression into a Higher Certificate or Diploma. The progression path is from N4 is to N5, and finally to N6. After completion of the N6 programme, the 12 or 18-month classroom requirement for the diploma is obtained. Thereafter the learner is expected to obtain 18 or 24-months of on the job training. These 36-month classroom and practical components qualify the learner to graduate for the National N Diploma, which makes provision for the graduate to register with ECSA (Engineering Council of South Africa) as a Professional Technician.

These options have been designed to bridge the gap between education and industry at an intermediate level, to provide labour as artisans or technicians depending on employer specifics, with a combination of skills and theory to perform the functions of a qualified engineering practitioner.

3. Technical education

For learners who prefer a technical engineering route, they must complete the matric or NSC to enter a study programme at a UoT. Upon meeting minimum requirements of the UoT, they have the first option of entering into a diploma programme or the second option of entering into a degree programme. The entry requirements are specific to the various UoTs for both programmes, and subject to the available programme.

Analysing the two options is as follows:

Option 1: after completion of matric, the learner enters into a diploma programme structured over a 24-month classroom period. Thereafter the learner is expected to obtain 12-months of on-the-job training. These 36-month classroom and practical components qualify the learner to graduate with a diploma. This option is pitched at the same level as the National N Diploma in the TVET College, to provide labour as strictly technicians. Since this programme is completed at a university, the theoretical content is more than the TVET programme, as the university environment shifts more from skills to knowledge-based qualifications. The diploma obtained at the UoT makes provision for the graduate to register with ECSA as a Professional Technician, meeting lesser prescribed requirements as compared to the National N Diploma in the TVET College.

Option 2: after completion of matric, the learner enters into the B-degree programme. This programme is structured over a four-year classroom period with no practical on-the-job training required to graduate. The only practical component is the work completed in the university laboratories. This option is available to provide technologists, i.e. pitched at the same level as an engineer. The degree obtained at the UoT makes provision for the graduate to register with ECSA as a Professional Technologist. The progression path here is into the M and D degrees, which are aligned to applied research.

4. Academic education

For learners who prefer an academic route into engineering, they must complete the matric or NSC to enter a study programme at a conventional university. Upon meeting the minimum entry requirements, they enter into a B-degree programme. (Entry requirements are specific to the various universities.) This programme is structured over a four-year classroom period with no practical on-the-job training required to graduate. The only practical component is the work completed in the university laboratories. This option is available to provide engineers. The degree obtained makes provision for the graduate to register with ECSA as a Professional Engineer. The progression path here is into the M and D degrees, which are aligned to core research.

Conclusion

On examination of the various engineering career paths from education into industry, it can clearly be seen that the practical hands-on component, which is skills based, is core at Grade 9, to provide skilled labour as artisan aides and artisans in the work place. The knowledge component, although essential, is limited. To occupy intermediate positions in industry as technicians, there is an increase in the knowledge component and a decrease in the skills component, where these programmes are offered at TVET Colleges and UoTs. The next level of job profile is that of a technologist, where the gap between education and industry is filled with a B-degree graduate specifically from a UoT. In this programme the knowledge component increases whilst the practical component decreases, with focus on a technical and applications approach. The highest, basic level of qualification, the B-degree obtained at a conventional university, prepares the graduate to be employed as an engineer.

The TVET College strives to provide high-quality education and training to produce skilled artisans and technicians, the UoT offers technological career-directed educational programmes to produce technicians and technologists, and the conventional university is an institution of higher education and research that awards only academic degrees, to produce engineers.

Some shortcomings in the current system along with possible solutions are proposed as follows:

• Educators often lack the skills to teach technical content, which could be overcome through a programme that allows educators to spend time in industry.

• The process of transferring knowledge and skills does not maintain the pace of technological advancement, e.g. whilst we have entered the fourth industrial revolution, teaching facilities, particularly on the practical side, have not been suitably upgraded. This can be overcome by donations from industry to education.

• Whilst industry contributes to the SDL (skills development levy) employers are reluctant to train learners for several reasons, e.g. safety implications, which requires the intervention of legislature.

• The practical component in the classroom environment not being mandatory, which requires the intervention of legislature.

It is the objective of the SAIMC to contribute to bridging the gap between education and industry, in terms of the vision and mission of the organisation. Two of the latest initiatives are:

• The establishment of a working group at national level to develop a new qualification in automation and control engineering. The intention is to introduce skills, diploma and degree programmes, pertinent to automation and control. The automation and control practitioner occupies a significant role in the engineering field, especially with the paradigm shift into the fourth industrial revolution, and as such, requires dedicated skills and knowledge.

• The establishment of a Student Chapter body at branch level, where students are afforded the opportunity to take a leadership role in the C&I fields at their respective institutions by interacting with industry role players through the SAIMC Committees. The first Student Chapter will soon be established by the Durban Branch at the Mangosuthu University of Technology.

For more information contact Professor Ralph Naidoo, Mangosuthu University of Technology, +27 31 907 7426, pnaidoo@mut.ac.za, www.mut.ac.za





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