Compiled by Eamonn Ryan

The new Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO) qualifications system and the substantial overhaul it represents introduces new and much-needed national HVAC&R qualifications in ammonia, CO2 and air conditioning.

Training taking place at ACRA.

Training taking place at ACRA. ©RACA Journal

Why meeting the 30 June 2024 OQSF deadline matters

By Roland Innes, Group CEO: DYNA Training 

Navigating South Africa’s transition from the NQF to OQSF framework – why meeting the 30 June 2024 deadline matters.

South Africa is at a crossroads of a significant educational and vocational transition as it shifts from the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) to the Occupational Qualifications Sub Framework (OQSF) managed by the QCTO. The CEO of the QCTO, Mr Vijayen Naidoo, has declared that the transition is imminent and that existing qualifications will not be re-registered. Long anticipated but now undeniable, this shift carries substantial implications for various industries, employers and training providers now referred to as Skills Development Providers.

Once readily available under the NQF, qualifications soon slated for discontinuation in the OQSF framework will present a challenge for companies accustomed to providing specific training programmes. The repercussions extend beyond individual learning journeys and extend to the business world, impacting B-BBEE scorecards. This makes it vital for organisations to reassess their training portfolios to ensure alignment with the new OQSF framework, or to seek suitable alternatives for discontinued qualifications, skills programmes or short courses. Here, training partners will have a critical role to play in facilitating this transition.

The looming deadline is no longer a technicality or a possibility; it is a call to action. Organisations must concede that the threat of the transition has become a reality, which means that ignoring it is no longer an option.

Education and skills development in South Africa is a process of change.

By Hennie Basson, managing member: Raetech Training Centre

The measures contained in the new occupational qualification for the HVAC&R sector have, and will, leave no enterprise or individual untouched.

It poses many challenges in order to make it effective and the structures and requirements implemented to date require new skills and paradigm shifts within public and business enterprises.

The heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVAC&R) industry is a large and important sector in the economy; therefore it is vital that role players in the education system ensure that the training for this sector is of the highest quality, and that the responsibility not be left only to government, as there is a need to engage in a public and private partnership.

The deficiencies in the system can be identified and addressed to provide quality learning and be responsive to changing demands and foster a culture of lifelong learning. Industry, through organised institutions like SAIRAC and SARACCA, were part of the development of the occupational qualification curricula for QCTO.

Hennie Basson welcomed guests in the laboratory, having eightminiature cold rooms with R290-charged refrigeration systems.

Hennie Basson welcomed guests in the laboratory, having eight miniature cold rooms with R290-charged refrigeration systems. Supplied by Raetech Training Centre

Structure of the occupational qualification

The legacy qualifications consist of multiple individual unit standards, each focusing on practical competencies, theoretical knowledge and critical cross-field outcomes. On the other hand, QCTO qualifications divide the legacy unit standards into three distinct modules:

  • Knowledge module: theory component
  • Practical module: all practical component
  • Work experience module: prescript of workplace experience required for the qualification

The knowledge module and the practical module need to be done in a QCTO-accredited training centre and the workplace experience module needs to be done at an approved workplace employer.

The legacy qualification unit standards expired on 30 June 2023, while the last date of trade test will be 30 June 2027 for all learners that were enrolled under the legacy qualifications. The impact is that the occupational qualification is effective from this year. The minimum requirement under the legacy qualification was that a learner required a minimum academic qualification of a full N2 certificate. The national certificates came to an end on 30 June 2023. The knowledge modules include the theoretical content required for the specific full or part qualification.

The full qualifications – Air Conditioning Refrigeration Mechanic and Refrigeration Mechanic – are structured so that there are exit levels should a learner wish to exit at a specific level. The most important addition is the part qualifications which will enable a worker to perform specific tasks in the trade for which they do not require the full qualification, and can obtain a part qualification in their field of expertise.

The full and part qualification makes provision for articulation levels: vertical and horizontal. It provides the opportunity for the learner to articulate horizontally to extend the current qualification to meet the requirements of other part qualifications. The vertical articulation is to obtain the next NQF Level from the current NQF level reached.

A selection of training material compiled by Hennie Basson.

A selection of training material compiled by Hennie Basson. Supplied by Raetech Training Centre

The qualification

There are two main qualifications and 15-part qualifications spreading out of the main qualifications.

No. Description SAQA ID Credits NQF Level Full / Part Qualification
1. Air conditioning and Refrigeration Mechanic 103277 641 4 Full
2. Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Certificate of
103272 142 4 Part
3. Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Compliance
103726 146 4 Part
4. Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Systems Pipework
103278 83 3 Part
5. Air Conditioning Filtration Equipment Worker 104618 61 3 Part
6. Mobile Refrigeration Fitter 103267 399 4 Part
7. Domestic and light commercial refrigeration
103279 173 2 Part
8. Industrial Refrigeration Mechanic Plant Room
103280 112 2 Part
9. Evaporative Cooling Systems Installer 104460 90 2 Part
10. Duct Work Installer 104619 72 3 Part
11. Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC)
Control Fitter
104620 155 4 Part
12. Refrigerant Pipe Work Fitter 104800 104 2 Part
13. Refrigeration Control Fitter 103271 169 4 Part
14. Refrigeration Fitter 103268 209 2 Part
15. Refrigeration Maintenance and Repair workman 103266 419 2 Part
16. Refrigeration Mechanic 103270 543 4 Full
17. Refrigeration Pipework Installer 103265 167 2 Part

Main qualifications

The difference between the two main qualifications is:

The air conditioning refrigeration mechanic is aimed at the heating, ventilation and air conditioning industry and the minimum requirement is grade 9 or NQF level 2.

The refrigeration mechanic is aimed at the refrigeration industry and on NQF Level 3 the learner has a choice to specialise in one of three options: ammonia, CO2 or ‘F gases’.

Trade test

The trade tests for the different full and part qualifications are under development. In the interim the legacy trade test will be valid.

The curriculum and assessment documents are available on QCTO’s website, which can be accessed for detailed information on the different full and part qualifications.

The knowledge module and the practical module need tobe done in a QCTO-accredited training centre.

The knowledge module and the practical module need to be done in a QCTO-accredited training centre. ©RACA Journal

QCTO a major step forward in HVAC&R training, says ACRA

Grant Laidlaw, owner of ACRA, reviewed the significance of the new QCTO regulations in the new qualifications system and the substantial overhaul it represents. While there were previously existing qualifications, the introduction of four new national HVAC&R qualifications marks a significant departure. “Notably, these qualifications include areas previously uncharted in South Africa, such as qualifications in ammonia, CO2 and air conditioning.”

Addressing the question of whether each training provider must develop its own course, Laidlaw clarified that while individual institutions cannot directly develop curricula and register qualifications, they can develop their own material or access training materials developed by specialised entities. These materials, akin to textbooks developed for schools, ensure standardisation and quality across providers. He stresses the role of training providers in delivering high-quality education, highlighting the importance of accreditation and the ongoing transition phase.

The QCTO has created an amalgamation of traditional and new elements in the revised qualifications. “For instance, the consolidation of legacy trades like refrigeration mechanic into comprehensive qualifications now encompassing natural refrigerants reflects industry advancements and safety standards. The qualifications are structured as follows: knowledge modules, practical training modules, and workplace modules tailored to specific industry needs. This structure allows for a tailored approach to training, ensuring that learners acquire the necessary skills and knowledge relevant to their specific field within HVAC&R.

“Such a targeted approach allows for a more efficient use of time and resources, benefitting both employers and employees.”

Explaining the separation of qualifications for refrigeration, air conditioning, CO2 and ammonia, Laidlaw elucidated the substantial differences in skill sets and applications necessitating distinct qualifications. They represent an industry demand for specialised training, particularly in areas like ammonia, driven by evolving safety regulations and technological advancements.

National qualifications are vital in providing standardised training across the industry, while they differ from skills programmes. Training providers need to update their processes and materials to align with the new qualifications and trade tests. This involves collaboration with regulatory bodies such as the QCTO for accreditation and approval of training materials and National Artisan Moderation Body (NAMB) for the approval, implementation and monitoring of the national trade test. “There is a need for ongoing rigorous curriculum development process and regulatory oversight. An important role is played by independent practitioners and regulatory bodies like the QCTO in ensuring compliance with industry standards – the process involves a collaboration between training providers and curriculum development entities. However, training providers play a role in maintaining quality standards in course development; not all providers may wish to provide training and assessment across all four qualifications, some may opt to stick to traditional qualifications – refrigeration mechanic albeit in its new guise.

A key component of the changeover is the transition from legacy trades to the new qualifications system. “While legacy trades such as refrigeration mechanic are still recognised, there is a phased approach towards adopting the new qualifications. This transition involves updating standards and ensuring that training centres are equipped to deliver courses aligned with the new requirements,” explains Laidlaw. “In terms of practical training, there is an emphasis on incorporating new technologies and industry trends, such as digitisation and efficiency measures. Equally important are safety regulations for refrigerants like hydrocarbons, CO2 and ammonia.”

Regarding the development and implementation of the new trade tests, this is ongoing with a deadline of end-June. “There is a sense of urgency to finalise these assessments to ensure that they accurately reflect the skills required for the new qualifications, and involves subject matter experts from various sectors within the industry to emphasise the importance of practical testing alongside theoretical components,” he adds.

He explains that once the trade tests are fully developed, they undergo a piloting phase to identify and address any potential issues. This involves running dummy candidates through the tests multiple times to ensure that the assessments are robust and effective. The aim is to catch any problem areas and refine the tests accordingly before they are officially implemented.

With the deadline for implementation approaching, stakeholders are working diligently to ensure a smooth transition and maintain the quality of training in the industry.

A second important innovation in the new qualifications system is its flexibility, and Laidlaw notes that this change was derived from requests from the industry to streamline training, while ensuring that individuals receive training that aligns closely with the specific requirements of their workplace roles and responsibilities, leading to greater efficiency and effectiveness in the workplace. The introduction of nationally registered part qualifications serves to standardise individual training modules – which are also part of larger main qualifications.

“By tailoring qualifications to different sectors within the HVAC&R industry, companies can ensure that their workforce is equipped with the skills relevant to their particular area of operation.

“For example, a company specialising in beverage cooling may require technicians with specific skills related to refrigeration units used in this context. Under the new qualifications framework, individuals can pursue a targeted qualification focused on the skills required for beverage cooling applications, rather than undergoing extensive training in areas that may not be directly relevant to their job roles.”

Laidlaw expressed optimism about the new qualifications system and its potential to address longstanding challenges in the HVAC&R industry. By providing more targeted training opportunities and greater flexibility in qualification pathways, the new system aims to better meet the needs of both employers and employees, ultimately contributing to a more skilled and efficient workforce thereby leading to formalisation of many currently informal participants.

A key question arises regarding the potential impact of these evolving qualifications on individuals undergoing training. There is a likelihood of an increase in the number of individuals obtaining qualifications, due to the removal of obstacles such as stringent criteria for recognition of prior learning (RPL). “By formalising training pathways and recognising informal sector experience, the industry aims to create a more skilled and qualified workforce.”

There have been earlier initiatives to formalise the informal sector within HVAC&R by providing proper qualifications and safe handling mechanisms. Such initiatives not only benefit individuals seeking recognition for their skills, but also facilitates easier qualification processes for companies.

However, the transition to new qualifications is not without its challenges, says Laidlaw. Resistance to change, particularly concerning the adoption of natural refrigerants, presents a significant hurdle. Despite the global push towards environmentally friendly refrigerants, there remains reluctance among technicians to embrace these alternatives. Market forces, financial considerations, and ingrained habits contribute to this resistance, highlighting the need for continued education and awareness within the industry.

“The evolution of qualifications in HVAC&R reflects a broader shift towards standardisation, inclusivity, and sustainability within the industry. While challenges persist, efforts to formalise training pathways and recognise informal sector expertise offer promising opportunities for individuals and companies alike. By embracing change and prioritising education, the HVAC&R sector aims to build a skilled workforce equipped to tackle the challenges of tomorrow,” concludes Laidlaw.

M.S. Airconditioning Distributors having been offering thistraining service to the industry for close to 20 years.

M.S. Airconditioning Distributors having been offering this training service to the industry for close to 20 years. Supplied by M.S. Airconditioning Distributors

Mitsubishi provides comprehensive user training

By investing in comprehensive and accessible training programmes, HVAC equipment suppliers contribute to the overall proficiency and safety of HVAC systems, ultimately benefitting users and the industry as a whole.

Staying abreast of the latest standards and practices is crucial for HVAC&R professionals, and product training is a key component of such training. Like other suppliers, Mitsubishi Electric South Africa provides comprehensive training to users of its HVAC equipment with M.S. Airconditioning Distributors having been offering this training service to the industry for close to 20 years.

Johann Willemse, Mitsubishi Electric technical department head, project commissioning and training, emphasises the significance of updating training materials to comply with local standards, which may differ from international standards. This includes aspects such as colour coding on wiring and safe handling guidelines for gases.

“One key aspect is the incorporation of national standards into the training courses. This ensures that the installation and maintenance of Mitsubishi’s HVAC equipment are done in accordance with local regulations such as SANS 10147.”

While independent training providers exist, training provided by equipment suppliers is essential as products differ significantly, and training is essential for users to fully understand the capabilities and functionalities of individual equipment. “Without proper training, users may not be able to maximise the potential of the equipment, leading to inefficiencies and potential maintenance issues.”

Moreover, training plays a crucial role in equipping HVAC&R professionals with the knowledge and skills necessary for installation, maintenance and troubleshooting. Willemse notes that training sessions often reveal hidden functionalities of the equipment that users may not have been aware of previously. “By providing training that goes beyond mere conveyance of information and incorporates practical exercises, newfound knowledge empowers professionals to make informed decisions and optimise the performance of HVAC systems.”

There is similarly a strategic value in training in fostering long-term relationships with customers. “Well-trained customers not only experience faster problem resolution, but also contribute to a smoother communication process with the company. From our perspective, training points to a commitment to add value for customers that goes beyond the sale of equipment.”

There are tangible benefits that client/employee participants receive from Mitsubishi Electric’s training programmes. “Besides acquiring a certificate upon completion of the course, participants gain valuable knowledge and practical skills that enhance their expertise in HVAC&R. From understanding installation and commissioning processes to mastering fault-finding techniques, participants emerge from the training sessions equipped to handle various challenges in the field.

“This training is delivered free of charge, being a component of our commitment to supporting the industry as a whole, not just our own customers.” Training provided by equipment suppliers is indispensable in driving excellence and innovation in the HVAC&R industry. Furthermore, in the case of Mitsubishi, the training benefits a diverse audience ranging from installing technicians and fault-finding technicians to consulting engineers and mechanical engineers. This dynamic mix of participants enriches the learning environment, says Willemse, fostering knowledge exchange between different roles to enhance understanding and expertise.

Beyond compliance and technical proficiency, Mitsubishi’s training programmes also prioritise safety. While aspects of safe handling of refrigerants are incorporated into the courses, participants are encouraged to pursue specialised training in this area for comprehensive understanding and adherence to safety protocols.

Willemse explains that Mitsubishi’s training offerings are accredited by professional bodies such as the Engineering Council. “Accredited courses provide participants with CPD (continuing professional development) points, making them sought-after by industry professionals keen on continuous learning and skill development.”

Willemse notes that feedback from participants is positive. “They appreciate the practical focus of the courses, where hands-on exercises facilitate better comprehension and retention of knowledge. Moreover, the emphasis on providing unbiased and informative material, free from sales-oriented messaging, resonates positively with participants seeking genuine learning experiences.”

By equipping professionals with the requisite knowledge, skills and safety awareness, the company empowers them to navigate the complexities of modern HVAC&R systems effectively as the industry continues to evolve.