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Work and Learning Research

Date Released: Wed, 25 May 2011 14:01 +0200

Recently, the Environmental Learning Research Centre hosted a public workshop on Work and Learning Research in the environmental sector. This workshop shared outcomes from a three year research programme that has been implemented by the ELRC, in partnership with the South African Qualifications Authority and the Department of Environmental Affairs.

The research programme sought to more fully understand how workplace learning takes place, and what this means for curriculum design of workplace learning programmes in the environmental sector. Five masters and three PhD scholars have been involved in the research programme.

 Sharing findings from the recently released Environmental Sector Skills Plan developed for South Africa through research-based support from the ELRC, Professor Sisitka noted “The environmental sector is surprisingly big – we discovered that there are more than 230 000 people working in environmental occupations in South Africa today”. This is half the size of the mining industry, and yet there are no formal structures in South Africa that are taking responsibility for environmental sector skills development planning. The matter is more complex, she said, because “environment is a cross cutting issue, and has implications for all sector education and training authorities (SETAs), and all levels of education and training, and is therefore a matter for all educational quality councils and authorities”.

Presha Ramsurup, also a researcher on the programme and now a registered PhD scholar in the ELRC research programme, said that the problem goes ‘much deeper’ because environment is a ‘new’ area in the structural dynamics of the skills development system. For example, many environmental occupations are not even listed in the Organising Framework for Occupations (OFOs). This makes a difference, she says, because “SETA funding is allocated according to these OFOs. If your occupation is not listed, it is not likely to receive any skills development funding”, she said, which serves to retain a system that does not allocate resources effectively to cross cutting areas such as environment in the national system of skills development.

The workshop was attended by a number of people interested in improving workplace learning practices including Mike Ward, Deputy CEO of the Wildlife and Environment Society and Jonathan Wigley, who have an interest in strengthening environmental practices education and training for business and local government.

The key, says Mike, is to work on the problem of ‘sustainable value’ in business, and then consider what this means for workplace learning. Workplace learning, he noted, was not the same as course-based learning, although there is a close relationship between the two. Professor Lotz-Sisitka’s take on this is that workplace learning requires a more sustained engagement with, and understanding of tacit and experiential knowledge, and thus education and training programmes for workplaces require curriculum frameworks that are reflexive, allowing workplace learners to reflexively review their practices through engagements with new theory.

This research programme is pointing towards new insights for designing workplace oriented education and training programmes.

This research has been presented to the South African Qualifications Authority Board, and to key stakeholders at a recent National SAQA Seminar. It was also recently also presented at the National Environmental Skills Summit, where Professor Lotz-Sisitka presented a keynote address.

The research has also shaped and informed the development of South Africa’s first Environmental Sector Skills Plan which works with a systems approach to human capacity development, and a broad view of ‘skills’ to be inclusive of knowledge, skills and values and practices.

There will be three other public workshops this year. See www.ru.ac.za/elrc [courses/public workshops]

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