The Institute of Performance Technology (IPT) has developed a recognition of prior learning tool for contact centre agents that enables companies to take advantage of the annual bursary fund made available by the Services Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA). Participating companies can claim substantial tax rebates from the government, enabling them to boost internal revenue at the same time as developing the skills of their workforce.
"This is an exciting and meaningful initiative for a contact centre industry that is experiencing enormous growth," says Mandy Venter, CEO of IPT. "Now that the bursary programme has been developed, all that remains is for corporate South Africa to take advantage of it."
Venter says companies will be able to use the bursary fund at no cost to themselves to ramp up the skills of their contact centre staff. "The programme provides a very real opportunity for companies to build employee skills and boost their internal revenue at the same time. It also has the potential to change thousands of lives for the better," Venter adds.
IPT, a specialist HR services provider for the corporate sector, is the certification partner to the Services SETA for the contact centre industry. Its recognition of prior learning tool acknowledges prior learning and enables contact centre agents to gain certification in contact centre support.
"The certification programme improves entry-level service in the contact centre industry, so that we can promote South Africa as a contact centre destination of choice," says Venter. "In partnership with the Services SETA, we have identified this as one of the ways in which we can help speed up the implementation of the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative (Asgisa), which aims to increase South Africa's economic growth to 6% by 2014."
She says the development of the recognition of prior learning tool is in line with IPT's commitment to the skilling up of South Africans so that the country can enhance its ability to compete in the global arena. "The contact centre industry is booming," she adds, "yet contact centre agents have had little access to any formal training. Our aim is to make a career in contact centre operations more attractive to workers. This will ensure greater staff retention and decreased HR costs for companies while enabling them to develop their people internally."
The announcement of the bursary scheme takes advantage of the Finance Ministry's additional tax allowance to employers that offer learnership programmes.
Venter notes that while the tax relief component of the scheme is a major incentive for corporate South Africa, the other benefit of the contact centre qualification is that it removes the burden of administration of learnerships -- the contract between learners, employers and training providers – from contact centre operations.
"Contact centre operations have neither the operational knowledge nor the HR capacity to administer the mounds of paperwork that are part and parcel of certification," says Venter. "We have streamlined the process, freeing them of that burden by having onsite co-ordinators and assessors in place to manage the process."
The qualification is open to anyone working in or wanting to enter the contact centre industry. It also serves as an entry into contact centre operations and management. Because the qualification will be registered at National Qualifications Framework (NQF) Level 2, portability across both areas of specialisation is ensured.
Learners working towards the qualification will find that the acquisition of competence in the unit standards it comprises will add value to their career, adds Venter.
The tool developed by IPT recognises prior learning by assessing workers who have extensive workplace experience for competence in terms of unit standards and qualifications. It looks at the skills they have acquired through practice and experience and gives them credit for those.
To achieve recognition for prior learning a learner is assessed by a registered assessor against a specific unit standard and, if competent, they will receive recognition for the learning.
"This is important in a country like South Africa, where most industry sectors demand some form of qualification from their employees, particularly if they want to move up through the ranks of the organisation," Venter says. "The fact is that many employees are able to do their work even though they have no formal qualification to prove it."