APEL.Q Case studiesSouth Africa APEL.Q case study in training and the world of work

Public services sector


Although a formal Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) policy had long been in existence in the public services, the actual implementation of the policy and RPL interventions were few due to the time-consuming and restrictive nature of the collection of portfolios of evidence. In 2012 the decision was taken to streamline the process as far as possible and to consider new assessment techniques in order to make the process feasible for RPL candidates.

The Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) revised the RPL policy and also received inputs from the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). DPSA and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), together with Edutel (an accredited private provider), were commissioned to launch a pilot project with 23 RPL candidates employed by various government departments across South Africa. The RPL candidates were assessed against the qualification Further Education and Training Certificate: Generic Management, Public Administration, NQF Level 4. This initiative was extremely well received by candidates and the process was speedily initiated.

Procedures and processes

From the outset, attempts were made to make the process straight-forward and comprehensible for both the candidates and their line managers. Candidates had to apply formally for the RPL assessment by providing a written statement of motivation for their inclusion and by supplying all relevant documents prior to the process. The necessary documents included copies of previous performance appraisals.

All candidates were invited to an orientation session, where they were briefed with regard to the requirements of the qualification, its purpose and the RPL approach that would be followed. A skills audit was conducted to benchmark the relevant assessment criteria of the full qualification against each employee’s current skills and knowledge base. This exercise resulted in identifying the gaps which would warrant further training and assessment interventions. Such interventions were planned well in advance and each candidate received a rollout plan of the relevant formal training which they would need to attend. Line managers were also given training in their roles as facilitators of evidence collection.

The RPL assessment instruments were integrated into the public services environment and addressed the specific needs of the RPL candidates. The issue of time was considered and the most cost effective assessment methods were utilised. Assessment techniques encompassed questioning that makes use of case studies, knowledge questionnaires, and checklists to be completed by line managers after behavioural observation in naturally occurring workplace circumstances. These instruments were benchmarked against the known best practice assessment principles and were found to be valid and reliable for use within the public services environment. The observation checklists particularly indicated the currency and authenticity of the evidence gathered, which, in an RPL context, is of significance.

Once the actual RPL commenced, a Project Steering Committee was established. This Committee met on a monthly basis. At these meetings, progress reports were tabled, identified challenges were discussed and possible solutions determined.

Outcomes and ways forward

Managers reported that candidate’s attitudes towards the RPL process were positive and that the RPL process was feasible for the organisation. The process contributed to the credibility of the assessment. However, managers also reported that the timeframes were too tight and that more time was needed because of the workloads of both candidates and their line managers.

A full RPL documentation pack, including detailed instructions, was compiled for use within many public services departments in South Africa, with the intention that the RPL initiative will grow and more employees will be able to make use of these effective methods of gaining acknowledgement for skills and knowledge acquired non-formally and informally.


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