Industry’s new occupational qualifications explained

Industry’s new occupational qualifications explained

By Grant Laidlaw

We are now in the third year of the government’s Decade of the Artisan campaign and we are seeing some movement in terms of training and qualifications for the local HVAC&R industry. What is changing?

One of the areas where the greatest changes are occurring is in education. As a country, our education system has been in a state of flux for several years now. This is particularly true for education systems relating to trades. These changes have brought about new structures within the Department of Higher Education.

The SETA system has been and is still undergoing substantial changes. For example: in the past, the infrastructure around trade testing was solely a SETA function. This is no longer the case. A new body, the National Artisan Moderating Body (NAMB), has been put in place and is now in control of trade testing and trade testing centers in South Africa. Another area of change is in the qualifications and curriculum development: we now have the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO). The SETAs still remain, serving in an administrative function.

The QCTO has reformulated the trades (occupations) and has issued a list of Organising Framework for Occupations (OFO) codes.

trade002The practical modules of the training are broken up into modules and must be conducted through an accredited provider.
Image credit: ACRA

The new system that has been developed will initially run in tandem with the current trades and learnerships but will ultimately replace the older methodologies.

We currently have the following as national qualifications: Refrigeration Mechanic (industrial and commercial) as trades and National Qualifications Framework (NQF) levels two, three, and four. These are called ‘heritage trades’ and are now being replaced with the ‘occupation’ refrigeration mechanic and a brand-new occupation called air conditioning and refrigeration mechanic.

The new trades are to be registered at NQF level 4 and culminate in a trade test. This is a national certification against a national qualification. The complexity of the refrigeration and air-conditioning trades has resulted in a higher than average credit value. In turn, this relates to the total duration that an apprentice needs to qualify. The duration required will be between three and four years.

Table 1: The National Qualifications Framework (NQF)
Table 1 The National Qualifications Framework NQF

The QCTO, through merSETA, invited industry stakeholders to sit on a curriculum development committee for the new qualifications. A consultant was appointed to guide the committee through qualification, curriculum, and assessment specification development processes.

The committee is representative of industry with stakeholders from contracting, education, end users, and supplier sectors. The South African Institute of Refrigeration and Air Conditioning (SAIRAC) and the South African Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractors Association (SARACCA) were represented, as well as government and labour.

Committee members included: Elsie Motau (consultant), Grant Laidlaw (SAIRAC), Barney Richardson (SARACCA), Hennie Basson (SARACCA), Jaco Pieterse, Andrew Perks, Isabel Krynauw, Jaco Pretorius, Johan Hattingh, Grant Ford, Moses Mngomezulu, Frik Coetzee, Rudi Botha, Bheki Mpofu, Cules Smit, Justice Rampfumedzi, Xolisa Njikelana, Sibusiso Hlubi, and Hendrik Engelbrecht.

Perks played a prominent role in developing the ammonia modules and Botha the carbon dioxide modules.

The committee appointed Laidlaw to lead the research and development process and to represent industry on the committee of expert practitioners.

Laidlaw followed a consultative process, calling on and involving industry experts when necessary.

The new system has three components: (a) a knowledge component (at an accredited training provider); (b) a practical component (at an accredited training provider); and (c) a workplace component (at an accredited workplace).

The development process took six months to complete, with the main committee sitting six times for two full-day sessions. Laidlaw spent approximately 38 working days developing the qualification together with the consultant and industry experts.

In developing the curriculum, all the heritage qualification aspects were considered and incorporated.

The new system has three components: (a) a knowledge component (at an accredited training provider); (b) a practical component (at an accredited training provider); and (c) a workplace component (at an accredited workplace).

The knowledge component of the training is broken up into modules that will now replace the unit standards. The knowledge component must be conducted through an accredited provider.

Likewise, the practical modules of the training are broken up into modules and must be conducted through an accredited provider. This is a new aspect, which now requires training providers to have fully equipped workshops that cover the entire scope and the training required. This aspect is an important requirement as not only is quality assured, but it assists the apprentice when workplace providers do not quite cover the entire scope of the qualification.

As before, the workplace modules must be completed at an accredited workplace. The logbook system will remain in place. This area of the training proved challenging with the heritage qualifications, as often the workplace did not have the scope of work required by the qualification. This has been addressed by including workplace modules and by having practical modules and an improved accreditation requirement.

The qualifications culminate in a revised trade test.

The heritage qualifications required a ratio of 2:1. That is to say, for every two apprenticeships a company wished to register, one qualified mentor was required. This has proven to be an obstacle to training. As a scarce-skill industry, we do not have sufficient mentors. To address the issue, this has been relaxed to a ratio of 4:1. This is in line with most occupations and should not result in a reduction in quality.

One of the main advantages of learnerships was that there were three exit levels: one at NQF level 2 for the more basic aspects, one at NQF level 3 for the more advanced aspects, and NQF level 4 for the qualified artisan.

This assisted learners who could not meet the full requirement and companies who, for example, needed a pipework installer and not a fully qualified artisan.

This was in contrast to the apprenticeship system that only had one exit level at NQF level 4.

The new system incorporates the best of both worlds. The new apprenticeship system will now have ‘part qualifications’. These are lesser qualifications coming out of the main artisan qualification. Considerable effort went into this to ensure that, as far as possible, industry needs are met. For example, certain companies require a pipe fitter. The company scope of work does not warrant the full qualification — the company does not need an artisan but a pipework fitter. The part qualifications now allow for this flexibility. The learner can focus on their field but receive credits for the part qualification. The credits form part of the parent qualification, allowing the learner to study further should the need/opportunity arise.

Another new aspect is that all the part qualifications will now have their own trade test.

Looking into the new qualifications, we find the two main qualifications: Air-conditioning Mechanic and Refrigeration Mechanic.

Air-conditioning mechanic

Beginning with the air-conditioning qualification, we find the details as outlined in Table 2.

Table 2: Occupational qualification document for an air-conditioning and refrigeration mechanic
Table 2 Occupational qualification document for an air conditioning and refrigeration mechanic

Qualification details

  • Qualification title: Occupational Certificate: Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Mechanic
  • Occupational code: 642701
  • Quality assuring body: Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO)
  • Sub-framework: Occupational Qualifications Sub-framework
  • Field: Field 06 – Manufacturing, Engineering, and Technology
  • Subfield: Manufacturing and Assembly
  • NQF level: 4
  • Credits: 659
  • Originator / Development Quality Partner (DQP): merSETA
  • Originating provider / Assessment Quality Partner (AQP): National Artisan Moderating Body (NAMB)
  • Qualification type: Occupational certificate

Rationale

HVAC&R is an integral part of the economy found in many economic sectors and subsectors. Globalisation has brought with it technological changes that require employees to have skills and knowledge that will enable them to be on a par with their counterparts. This requires learners to be trained in line with the latest technologies that will empower them to become employed or self-employed. This will enable learners to participate in the economy and thus be productive members of the society. To secure food stability and maintain quality for the entire population, refrigeration represents a critical skill in the maintenance of the cold chain.

Rapid changes in technology associated with air conditioning and refrigeration have resulted in the current qualifications not being aligned to industry requirements. Also, according to the Government Gazette No. 39604, dated 19 January 2016, air conditioning and refrigeration mechanic has been identified as one of the occupations in high demand.

Learners and current employees need to be trained against the latest technologies to ensure job security, advancement, and placement.

The qualification is aimed at new entrants as well as currently employed personnel. Upon completion, learners would have acquired knowledge and skills that will enable them to install, maintain, repair, and fault-find refrigeration systems. Qualified learners are likely to be employed across the economic sectors that include mining, retail, food processing, warehousing, food production, automotive, marine, medical, engineering, fruit and wine industry, cold transport, and farming. 

This qualification is structured in a manner that allows learners to progress to the full qualification by accumulating credits achieved from the part qualification.

Learners who have formally or informally acquired knowledge and skills will undergo a recognition of prior learning (RPL) assessment in order to recognise skills acquired.

The qualification articulates vertically with engineering-related qualifications, which allow for career progression.

Learners can become self-reliant, productive of society by self-employment, thereby contributing positively to the economy and providing further employment opportunity. 

Purpose

The purpose of this qualification is to prepare a learner to operate as an air-conditioning and refrigeration mechanic.

An air-conditioning and refrigeration mechanic installs, commissions, services, maintains, overhauls, repairs, and troubleshoots air-conditioning refrigeration and ventilation systems in accordance with customers’ requirements, as well as industry and national standards in compliance with relevant national legislation.

The part qualifications that stem from and form part of the main air-conditioning qualification are outlined in Table 3.

Table 3: Part qualifications for main air-conditioning qualification
Table 3 Part qualifications for main air conditioning qualification

Looking at the part qualifications, we now find it is possible to train and qualify a person in industry to be a qualified unitary air-conditioning installer or a ductwork installer or in any of the part qualifications listed.

The main air-conditioning qualification mentioned is an apex qualification, with one trade test for the main qualification and each part qualification will culminate in its own trade test.

Refrigeration mechanic

Moving on to the second qualification, refrigeration mechanic. The qualification for the trade refrigeration mechanic is not an apex qualification.

In this instance, the apprentice completes the generic aspects and can then branch out into one of three areas: ammonia, CO2, or Freon. In other words, it is now possible to train and qualify a refrigeration mechanic (ammonia), a refrigeration mechanic (CO2) and lastly, a refrigeration mechanic (commercial/freons). The final description as to the exact naming of the certificates for each section has not been finalised, as this will fall into the scope of trade testing.

This is a far more complex model and presented considerable challenges to the committee.

An apprentice starts their training in the generic aspects and then, depending on circumstances and the workplace provider’s scope of work, will branch out into one or more of the areas illustrated.

Each of the three areas of speciality carry the same credits but will be trade tested according to the specific curriculum.

Qualification pathwaysQualification pathways.

Although a more complex system, we can now train and trade test in line with industry’s needs.

Table 4: Occupational qualification document for a refrigeration mechanic
Table 4 Occupational qualification document for a refrigeration mechanic

Qualification details

  • Qualification title: Occupational Certificate: Refrigeration Mechanic
  • Occupational code: 642702
  • Quality assuring body: Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO)
  • Sub-framework: Occupational Qualifications Sub-framework
  • Field: Field 06 – Manufacturing, Engineering, and Technology
  • Subfield: Manufacturing and Assembly
  • NQF level: 4
  • Credits: 545
  • Originator / Development Quality Partner (DQP): merSETA
  • Originating provider / Assessment Quality Partner (AQP): National Artisan Moderating Body (NAMB)
  • Qualification type: Occupational certificate

Rationale

The refrigeration qualification rationale is similar to the air-conditioning qualification. Refrigeration is an integral part of the economy found in many economic sectors and subsectors. Globalisation has brought with it technological changes that require employees to have skills and knowledge that will enable them to be on a par with their counterparts. This requires learners to be trained in line with the latest technologies that will empower them to become employed or self-employed. This will enable learners to participate in the economy and thus be productive members of the society. In order to secure food stability and maintain quality for the entire population, refrigeration represents a critical skill in the maintenance of the cold chain.

The qualification refrigeration mechanic, like the air-conditioning mechanic, also has part qualifications.

Part qualifications: refrigeration mechanic

Table 5: Part qualifications for the refrigeration mechanic
Table 5 Part qualifications for the refrigeration mechanic

Looking at the part qualifications for refrigeration, we now find it is possible to train and qualify a person in industry to be a qualified domestic and light commercial refrigeration serviceman or a refrigeration pipework installer or to qualify in any of the part qualifications.

The main refrigeration qualification mentioned is a qualification with one trade test route for the main qualification and, as I mentioned, each part qualification will culminate in a trade test.

As part of the development process, a comparative study had to be undertaken to ensure that the new qualifications are up to international standards.

International comparability

The South African air-conditioning and refrigeration qualification has been compared with qualifications offered in New Zealand and Australia.

New Zealand

The South African Refrigeration Mechanic trade qualification has been compared with two trade qualifications registered on the New Zealand Qualifications Authority framework. These are the New Zealand Certificate in Refrigeration and Air Conditioning (Trade Assistant) (Level 3), Ref. No. 2365, and the National Certificate in Refrigeration and Air Conditioning (Level 4), Ref No. 0130, with 284 credits.

The New Zealand Certificate in Refrigeration and Air Conditioning (Trade Assistant) (Level 3), Ref. No. 2365, provides learners with competencies that enable them to assemble, install, and maintain refrigeration and air-conditioning systems under supervision. The qualification has 120 credits. Access and duration have not been specified.

Another new aspect is that all the part qualifications will now have their own trade test.

The National Certificate in Refrigeration and Air Conditioning (Level 4), Ref. No. 0130, with 284 credits, allows learners to choose elective unit standards over and above the generic core unit standards. Elective unit standards from category A, which are listed below, have been found to compare favourably with the South African Refrigeration Mechanic qualification. Competencies covered in this category are:

  • Assemble and fabricate commercial refrigeration and/or air-conditioning system components.
  • Modify industrial refrigeration systems.
  • Commission commercial refrigeration and/or air-conditioning systems.
  • Commission industrial refrigeration systems.
  • Maintain commercial refrigeration and/or air-conditioning systems.
  • Perform maintenance operations on industrial refrigeration systems.
  • Service commercial refrigeration and/or air-conditioning systems.
  • Service industrial refrigeration systems.
  • Install commercial refrigeration and/or air-conditioning systems.

Learners who successfully complete this qualification can advance to the National Certificate in Mechanical Engineering, NQF level 5.

Australia

The Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Systems trade qualification (UEE42911) has been found to cover competencies that are covered in the South African Refrigeration Mechanic qualification. Upon completion of the Certificate IV in Refrigeration and Air-conditioning (UEE42911), learners will be able to:

  • Calculate heat loads;
  • Select equipment for basic commercial refrigeration or residential air-conditioning applications; and
  • Adhere to regulatory requirements when purchasing and handling refrigerants.

Comparison

Similarities: Similarities have been found to be in terms of the type of qualifications, which are all trade qualifications; key competencies to be demonstrated by learners upon successful completion of the learning programme; and adherence to regulatory requirements.

Differences: Differences have been found to be in relation to:

  • The structure and components of the South African Refrigeration Mechanic qualification in relation to the qualifications offered in the two other countries selected. The South African Refrigeration Mechanic occupational qualification is structured into Knowledge Modules, Practical Skills Modules, and Work Experience Modules. All these components must be completed for learners to be eligible for summative assessment. It has been found that with the New Zealand qualification, in addition to the core unit standards, learners are allowed to choose elective unit standards according to their career choices.
  • The total number of credits assigned to the South African qualification is a lot higher than credits assigned to the international qualifications reviewed.
  • Entry-level requirements for the South African qualification is NQF level 1 with Mathematics, while with the New Zealand qualification, learners should have completed National Engineering Certificate Level 2.
  • Competencies covered in the Australian trade qualifications are all covered in one South African Refrigeration Mechanic trade qualification.

A work in progress

The South African Refrigeration Mechanic qualification compares favourably with the internationally reviewed qualifications.

The new system certainly presents challenges but, in many areas, improves upon and addresses weaknesses in the heritage qualifications.

The status of the new qualifications is that the curriculum, assessment specification, and qualification documents have been completed and submitted to the QCTO for approval. Although currently in draft format, the committee and the consultant do not foresee any substantial changes.

The process may be completed by the fourth quarter of this year, after which the committee will reconvene to develop the new trade test under NAMB.

The entire trade test model has been revamped, which I shall describe at a later date.

grant(F. SAIRAC)
Representative of the air-conditioning and refrigeration qualification, curriculum, and assessment specification development committee

Click below to read the April 2018 issue of RACA Journal

RACA APR 2018

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