1. What is RPL
RPL, or Recognition of Prior Learning is one of the most interesting topics in the human capital and skills development industries. Every so often my telephone rings with a person requesting me to “RPL” him on the other side. My enquiry as to what the person wants to be RPL’d against is often met with ignorance. “No, I don’t know sir, just RPL me?”
To be successfully RPL’d a person must have at least the basics of understanding what the concept entails. It starts by understanding the nature of the industry in which the person works, and what the qualification structures are in that industry. For example, if a person works in the retail industry and wants to be RPL’d, he or she would do well to start by investigating what type of qualifications there are, to compare their skills base against. The next step could be to consider where a person then fits in, what level, what speciality and so on. However, the person should also have a clear idea or vision for future development – such as to qualify for a certain job or a promotion or access to another qualification. RPL could therefore easily fit into a Continuous Professional Development (CPD) strategy. The individual can use RPL to drive, quantify and track progress in skills development. Thus, following a step-by-step building process approach to obtaining a qualification whilst a skills set is improved step by step.
2. What RPL is not
Contrary to belief, sometimes in important corridors and grand standing conference debates, RPL is not assessment. It simply is not. To put it bluntly – evidence is assessed. Evidence itself, however, could have different modes of origin. For the school leaver evidence is gathered by attending theory training, writing tests, exams, and assignments, and then going to a workplace to demonstrate practically that such is indeed applied. All the evidence is recorded and if in compliance with the relevant standards, the learner is declared competent by an assessor. RPL suggests that the learner has working experience, and understands the theory behind the experience, and affords the learner an opportunity to express and display such evidence, in a slightly different manner. The learner does not have to attend theory class, but ultimately must still present evidence that must be assessed in the same fashion, by a registered assessor. RPL does not replace any assessment. RPL simply acts as an alternative to the training requirement. RPL can be seen as the alternative to the classroom process. However, the same standards apply.
Thus, when engaged in RPL, we are in fact creating an opportunity to measure skills, competency, and standards, without giving recognition or setting requirements of the origin of the competency. Where the person obtained the learning is not important but proving that it has taken place is.
RPL however, could be risky. In certain Seta’s a provider must be a registered provider for RPL to do RPL. A learner that undergoes RPL in this fashion, however, has the risk of being found competent against 90% of the requirements only and having to find a training provider that can close the gap for the balance. It makes for a very administratively clumsy system. It creates more things that need to be QA’d and more things that can go wrong.
The university model of RPL makes more sense. At a some tertiary institutes for example, the learner enrols for a qualification and can then RPL for certain modules. Whatever can be proved as experience can, up to a point, enable the learner to get a module “off”, whilst continuing with the balance to obtain the qualification enrolled for.
This suggests that the way we should think about RPL is that it is in fact part of the delivery system to get people qualified, just as what the classroom activity is. RPL should not have a different set of assessment measures if the same standards are to be awarded as competencies or credits to learners.
3. Making RPL work in the workplace
RPL in the workplace is most underutilised. Too few organisations see the value of aligning job descriptions to both strategic corporate objectives as well as potential known educational standards. A clever way of doing this is to simply design job descriptions as competencies that must be performed to achieve corporate goals. These goals can then be equated to qualifications. The performance management system must, however, accommodate this design, and measure performance in the same fashion. Where staff gathers information for performance management, this evidence also applies as formal credit and can as such, be used in an RPL process.
Thus, as learners work and gather workplace evidence, this implies that evidence is also applicable for RPL. This consolidates workplace learning. The idea of using the workplace a learning place is not new. Considerable research has been done in Europe regarding ways to create such systems. Some organisations have even started their own universities, such as MacDonald’s Hamburger University.
According to Wikipedia, a corporate university is any educational entity that is a strategic tool designed to assist its parent organization in achieving its goals by conducting activities that foster individual and organizational learning and knowledge. Corporate universities (CU) are a growing trend in business. In 1993, corporate universities existed in only 400 companies. By 2001, this number had increased to 2,000, including Walt Disney, Boeing, and Motorola.
In most cases, corporate universities are not universities in the strict sense of the word. The traditional university is an educational institution, which grants both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in a variety of subjects, as well as conducting original scientific research. In contrast, a corporate university typically limits scope to providing job-specific, indeed company-specific, training for the managerial personnel of the parent corporation. Corporate universities are most found in the United States, a nation which has no official legal definition of the term "university". Perhaps the best-known corporate university is the Hamburger University operated by McDonald's Corporation in Chicago.
Where the corporate university is not degree granting, alignment can be made with formal universities to fill in the gaps and issue the degrees. It is therefore almost a type of in-house delivery system for the formal Universities.
4. RPL and Systems Thinking
The RPL structure makes for interesting systems thinking. Systems thinking in human capital field calls for an understanding of how one action influences the entire system. The ripple effect of RPL will demonstrate the value of systems thinking, in various ways, which will include the following:
- Improved staff morale
- Improved productivity
- Increased propensity to learn
- More motivated staff leads to more sales
- More sales leads to growth and more job opportunities in the group
- More jobs in the group grows the national economy
- Growth in national economy reduces unemployment
Thus, what starts as a single action in one organisation has a ripple effect that eventually improves the tax base. This in turn enables more funding into education and development. The trick with systems thinking and RPL is that learners that are engaged in this process, starts to excel. As they grow, they see what it is possible, and that motivates them and the people they meet. Eventually they infect the system with positive attitudes and inspire others to follow. Thus, it kicks starts the systems thinking agenda.
By Dr. Wynand Goosen, CEO, Infomage Rims Group