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The missing piece? The importance of integrating soft skills into the QCTO Sub-Framework

The South African Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO) offers a valuable foundation for the development of job-specific skills, standing as an important institution in shaping workforce readiness and competence. While industry-specific qualifications are undeniably vital, the dialogue surrounding the integration of soft skills within the QCTO framework is gaining momentum. In the context of QCTO qualifications, it is imperative for industry to get involved in shaping the future of skills development (particularly the so-called ‘soft’ skills) in a manner that is universally portable between occupations to ensure a workforce that is well-rounded and equipped for change.

Leigh-Ann Revill, CEO and Principal at Chartall Business College

A strong foundation for occupation-specific skills

The QCTO will likely excel at providing qualifications tailored to specific job roles. This targeted approach ensures graduates possess the technical expertise needed to excel in their chosen field. However, success in the workplace hinges on more than just technical knowledge.

Soft skills encompass a range of interpersonal and personal qualities, including people management, leadership, emotional intelligence (EQ), communication and teamwork. These skills are fundamental for effective collaboration, problem-solving, and driving high-performance teams. An employee with exceptional technical skills but lacking soft skills is likely to struggle to motivate colleagues, manage conflict, or communicate effectively with clients, which has led to an oft-quoted industry saying, “soft skills are hard skills.”

Bridging the gap with universal skills programmes

While the QCTO qualifications prioritise technical skills, there is room for incorporating soft skills development. Although still under development, the Occupational Qualifications Sub-Framework can address this need through skills programmes. The incorporation of soft skills can play an instrumental role in bridging the gap between theoretical knowledge and real-world job requirements. While QCTO qualifications offer a solid foundation in technical expertise, the complementary inclusion of soft skills ensures that individuals are holistically equipped to navigate complex workplace dynamics, lead teams effectively, and adapt to evolving professional landscapes.

One anticipated avenue of integration for soft skills into the QCTO sub-framework is through skills programmes. These programmes must be designed to address specific areas such as leadership, emotional intelligence, and team dynamics, and serve as a flexible tool for enhancing the skill set of individuals across various occupations. Most importantly, these programmes must be designed with portability in mind, to deliver the versatility necessary to cater to diverse industry needs and job roles.

Industry involvement as a catalyst for change

As such, we must reframe our understanding of skills development to acknowledge the fundamental nature of soft skills and emphasise their relevance across all occupational domains. By positioning soft skills as essential components of workforce readiness, industry stakeholders, such as employers and skills development providers can advocate for their inclusion in both full qualifications and skills programmes within the QCTO sub-framework.

The onus for soft skills development cannot lie solely with the QCTO. Countries with thriving skills development systems often share a common thread: high levels of involvement from employers, learners, industry stakeholders and regulatory bodies like the QCTO. This collaborative approach ensures that qualifications and skills programmes cater to the evolving needs of the workforce.

A collective responsibility for shaping the future of our workforce

Here, employers, training facilitators and individuals can play a critical role in advocating for the inclusion of soft skills within qualifications and skills programmes. Employers can further contribute by analysing their workforce needs and identifying areas where soft skills development would significantly benefit their organisations. They must engage with SETAs (Sector Education Training Authorities) and support the development and implementation of relevant skills programmes.

Where existing qualifications lack essential soft skills elements, it will be necessary to work with industry bodies to advocate for changes to amend these qualifications and make them more suitable to meeting industry requirements. Professional bodies can offer valuable insights and support in developing essential skills programmes, which is important given that a strong foundation in soft skills is fundamental in fostering a diverse and inclusive work environment.

Meeting the demands of tomorrow’s workplace

The importance of integrating soft skills within the QCTO sub-framework cannot be overlooked in the pursuit of ensuring workforce readiness and adaptability. As industry dynamics continue to evolve, the demand for individuals equipped with a blend of technical expertise and soft skills will only intensify. By actively engaging with regulatory bodies, advocating for the inclusion of soft skills, and fostering collaboration across stakeholders, industries can shape a future where qualifications align seamlessly with the demands of the modern workplace.