by Alison Cooper

ARCHITECTURE IGNITING THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT

Dr Yashaen Luckan, the president of the South African Council for the Architectural Profession (SACAP), is a living example of the calibre of architectural skills South Africa can gain through transforming the sector

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Despite the many challenges Dr Luckan has faced as a result of the country’s past discriminatory practices, he persevered and, after 17 years, achieved his Master of Architecture degree, followed by a PhD.

Today, he is committed to helping to redress past imbalances within the profession and the broader built environment. One of the primary mechanisms being used by SACAP is the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). RPL assesses previously acquired skills, knowledge and experience, with the view to providing an opportunity to articulate to the next level of professional registration.

Recognition of Prior Learning

Since 2000, RPL has been influenced by changes in higher education legislature. The South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) developed a policy on RPL that underpins both academic and professional competencies. In the professional context, RPL must ensure substantial knowledge, skills and competencies.

Following a moratorium on SACAP’s RPL programme in 2010, a lengthy period of consultation ensued between SACAP’s Fourth Term Council and its recognised Voluntary Associations (VAs), which resulted in a new programme format and the testing of its new RPL software.

The RPL programme is a two-phase process, the first of which sees a professional declaring their competencies online. This is then assessed by a back-end online system that determines the level of competence and any obvious learning gaps.

Should the applicant successfully complete the online phase, he/she is invited to submit their work to a panel of assessors/jurors, comprising of registered professionals and academics. This portfolio of evidence is the authentication phase of the RPL programme.

SACAP’s RPL programme conforms to SAQA’s RPL policy and guidelines for professionals.

“It is the knowledge, skills and competencies that distinguish a draughtsman and technologist from an architect. This relates to both the National Qualification Framework (NQF) levels and SACAP competencies,” explains Luckan.

A draughtsman’s knowledge must meet the NQF Level 5 (higher certificate level) outcomes, whilst an architect must meet NQF Level 9 (master’s degree level). Knowledge and skills gained through work experience must demonstrate substantial equivalence to both the NQF levels and professional competencies.

Professionals are required to register in the correct category, to ensure safe, reliable and good-quality building and architecture. “Essentially, the RPL programme is key in matching competencies with the NQF level of professionals who cannot access higher education due to their socio-economic circumstances,” says Luckan.

Transforming the sector

The Architects Act 1970 marginalised a large percentage of people in the industry, from draughtspersons and architectural technologists to senior architectural technologists, explains Marella O’Reilly, the chief executive officer and registrar of SACAP.

“These people, known as the ‘missing middle’, were marginalised over a 30-year period, from recognised professional registration and from gaining access to a well-established labour market. Even though they had the necessary skills, knowledge and experience, they lacked a tertiary qualification,” O’Reilly explains.

SACAP’s Fourth Term Council’s turn-around strategy focuses on redressing these past imbalances and providing access to the ‘missing middle’ to provide them with an opportunity to articulate to the next level of professional registration.

This strategy is aligned with that of the Council for the Built Environment (CBE), the statutory body that regulates SACAP and the sector’s five other Councils of Built Environment Professions (CBEP).

Isaac Nkosi, the chairperson of the CBE, explains that the CBE’s transformation initiatives are rooted in two tenets, namely increasing the racial and gender balance to correctly reflect the demographics of post-apartheid South Africa, and ensuring that the skills pipeline (at every phase of learning) provides a conducive environment to attract, nurture and retain people in built environment professions.

“We have thus initiated a cradle-to-the-grave approach, which is embedded in our transformation model,” he says.

The first CBEP online RPL platform

“The missing middle are eagerly taking their first steps on SACAP’s innovative RPL online platform, which was announced in May 2017, and applying to register for the online self-assessment phase. It is the first RPL online platform developed amongst South Africa’s CBEP,” says O’Reilly.

Because the system is online it effectively and speedily plays a role in bringing about transformation in the sector. It can be accessed from anywhere, provides instant feedback and removes human subjectivity.

“The programme is unique in design and approach, ensuring the highest levels of quality while being easily accessible,” says Luckan.

Seven architectural professionals took part in the testing phase of the online programme and formally submitted their online self-assessment applications to SACAP’s Professional Statutory Services Unit in May.

“I anticipate equity statistics will improve through this programme and I am certain it will enable the realisation of our transformation objectives and our vision for people-centred architecture,” says Luckan.

“There is a need to correct the imbalances of the past—the exclusion of blacks, women, and people with disabilities, from built environment professions—and there’s a critical need for built environment skills in South Africa,” says Nkosi. “Once the barriers of race and gender are broken down and no longer the consolation prize, true ability will be the sole focus. Then effective transformation of the built environment has the potential to make South Africa an international player, in so far as the built environment professions are concerned,” he adds.

According to Luckan the most expressed lack of transformation in society is evident in architecture. There’s a vast and stark difference in communities that had access to highly-qualified architectural professionals and those who didn’t.

“The overarching effect was that poorer communities—those which essentially need the best-designed built environments—continue to be the most neglected by quality architecture. Most professionals living in these areas are not professional architects. They are in need of upskilling, which the SACAP RPL programme partly addresses.

“Ultimately, RPL is aimed at increasing the pool of highly-qualified professionals within poorer communities to effect spatial transformation. This implies that RPL has an ethical responsibility to society and must reward high standards and competence,” he says.

People with limited education were classified as draughtsmen, not architects, and their communities could not benefit from their experience and skills.

“These practitioners—who had the best understanding of their own place, people and challenges—were not given the opportunities to better the quality of the communities in which they lived. These people have the most vested interests in these communities, but no opportunities. Imagine if architecture could reflect the spirit, memory and aspirations of its own people in its place of existence!”

Feedback received from those marginalised in the sector has been overwhelmingly positive. “However, for many, RPL has come rather late. This impacts on people practising architecture in categories other than professional architect, as well as professional architects who want to advance their academic qualifications, without having to enrol for full-time studies at a university.

“Many of these people are nearing retirement age and this is something that RPL must also address. Due to the lack of RPL, many professional architects with years of experience and wisdom are denied the opportunity of sharing their knowledge and wisdom at universities—especially at higher degree levels,” says Luckan.

Besides RPL, other crucial aspects of the CBE’s transformation model include its Maths and Science School Support Programme, for Grade 10 to 12 learners, to assist them with maths and science and encourage them to enter built environment professions; an Internship Support Programme, which sees undergraduate students placed for experiential training with host employers to comply with their tertiary education requirements; a Structured Candidacy Programme, which sees candidates and graduates trained, mentored and assessed to enable them to achieve professional registration in their respective disciplines within acceptable time frames; and Continuous Professional Development (CPD), which ensures that registered professionals keep abreast with new knowledge and insights.

“The CBE has partnered with SACAP and the other CBEP in this programme, and a number of initiatives are being implemented by the CBEP. The CBEP are also working with their respective VAs to ensure that all stakeholders in the built environment are involved in transformation of the profession,” says Nkosi.

“Architectural professionals need to become more innovative in business practice”

Bringing SACAP’s RPL programme to life

SACAP chose to use a digital system to ensure that RPL has the broadest impact. Whilst the first challenge was to develop a rigorous RPL framework that met both the NQF and SACAP competency requirements, the second was developing a smart system to enable RPL.

“Both issues have been overcome; RPL has been successfully launched and the system will continue to be revised and developed as required.

“Although RPL has been well received since its soft launch, there has been a perception that it is of a lesser standard than an academic qualification. This is not true. RPL meets the standards and levels of competence determined by SAQA and the SACAP competency matrix,” Luckan confirms.

SACAP’s short-term RPL goal is to ensure that architectural professionals register in the correct category, which will enable them to access work in higher categories and better their livelihoods. The sector will transform in the process.

The long-term goal is greater synergy between theory and practice.

“While RPL currently addresses those who could not historically access higher education, in future people could opt for a blended learning model—integrating formal and practice-based learning. This can only strengthen professional competence and enable experienced professionals to mentor aspiring architects within their practices,” says Luckan.

“The knock-on effect of RPL will ensure that a larger number of professionals will be able to provide their services to the public,” says O’Reilly, who not only fulfils the role of registrar but also that of CEO, and as such ensures that she always has both feet planted firmly on the ground—one in each area that she’s responsible for.

“I run a full corporate business as CEO, but I am also the custodian of the Act and its 13 mandates, so I juggle my time between the two,” she adds.

Where applicants are faced with the need to bridge learning gaps, they may supplement their knowledge and skills either through part-time studies at university, further work experience or specialised RPL courses that are offered by recognised VAs, architectural universities and private RPL specialised course providers.

Whilst some in the industry may be concerned that RPL could lower industry standards and increase competition for work in the industry Luckan explains that this is not the case.

“Because RPL is directly linked to upskilling and rewarding competence, it should not lead to price competition. In fact, the pool of higher qualified architectural professionals may benefit the profession,” he says. Luckan affirms that price-competition may actually adversely affect the capital investment of the client in professional industries.

Passionate about architecture

While transformation features prominently on SACAP’s agenda, it is also committed to promoting and regulating the architectural profession.

Responsible for the day-to-day management of SACAP, O’Reilly is fuelled by her passion for regulation and has an in-depth knowledge of the architectural sector. She is determined to ensure that SACAP fulfils its mandates whilst adding value to its registered professionals and candidates and protecting the public.

“Architecture ignites the built environment because this is where the entire process begins,” says O’Reilly, who explains that although SACAP has numerous mandates to fulfil, it always has the best interests of its registered professionals and the public at heart. Every profession within the built environment is regulated by law. SACAP is mandated by The Architectural Professions Act (44 of 2000), which replaced the Architects Act of 1970, to regulate the profession and protect the public.

The truth about fees

SACAP professionals are currently charged an annual fee of R2 640 and candidates R1 128, across the four categories of registration—draughtspersons, architectural technologists, senior architectural technologists and architects —as approved by the council and promulgated in the Government Gazette.

CPD, renewable over a five-year period, is one of the mechanisms that professionals must demonstrate to maintain their registration, as is the case with all professionals in South Africa’s built environment.

SACAP is required to equally regulate all four categories, by enforcing the law and protecting the public from any professional who contravenes their code of conduct. As such, the fees paid by registered candidates and professionals ensure that they are licensed to operate within the framework of the law and that they uphold professional standards.

The CBE is mandated to ensure the consistent application of policy by the CBEPs, including the principles upon which CBEPs must base the determination of fees which registered persons are entitled to charge.

Such policies must be in accordance with legislation relating to the promotion of competition. The CBE furthermore has the mandate to review fees published by CBEPs to ensure consistent application of the principles regarding such fees.

Whilst some in the industry have judged SACAP as failing to obtain approval from the Competition Commission, this is baseless and ignorant of the Act.

“The Competition Commission has rejected the exemption application for the publication of this fees guideline, stating that it stifles competition and can be construed as price fixing. Approval is a prerequisite. It was duly sought, but was declined,” O’Reilly explains.

“Council is now researching alternative ways to determine guidelines on fees payable by all registered professionals, to ensure both the sustainability of the profession and high standards of professional practice,” she adds.

An alternate fees model will be presented at a SACAP Fees Lekgotla at which all stakeholders will be invited to give comment.

“The Identification of Work (IDoW) framework documents is deemed to be founded on architectural work reservation, which in the opinion of the Competition Commission, is anti-competitive and restrictive. Architectural professionals are not alone in the impact this has on their work life. All six councils for the professions face the same challenge.”

SACAP is pursuing an alternative method to ensure the protection of all the categories under the Act. “The IDoW needs to align skills and competencies and this now makes senses with the launch of SACAP’s new RPL programme. We have been actively engaging the CBE and VAs on the challenges faced,” says O’Reilly.

The CBE noted the withdrawal of the IDoW exemption application that it submitted on behalf of SACAP to the Competition Commission. This puts SACAP and the CBE in a position to, after consultation with all stakeholders, re-submit a fresh application.According to Luckan, the industry is becoming increasingly competitive for the professional, which has been escalated by the Competition Commission.

“Architectural professionals need to become more innovative in business practice and finance and, as a profession, we need to think of new ways of charging fees so that architectural practices can be both profitable and sustainable, while providing service excellence. This strategy must give credit to the extensive intellectual capital invested in the design process,” he says.

Protecting the public

One of SACAP’s primary mandates is to enforce a Code of Professional Conduct to protect the public.

“The legal investigative processes require a large outlay of financial and human capital resources for SACAP to fulfil its public protection mandate successfully,” says O’Reilly.

“Despite this, SACAP has already investigated over 500 cases, of which 154 have been successfully prosecuted,” O’Reilly confirms.

Another challenge expressed by Nkosi is that SACAP and the other CBEP are faced with a rapidly changing environment.

“The lack of economic growth has adversely impacted the built environment as there has been less work for professionals. The economic pressure, amongst other things, has caused some registered professionals to deregister,” says Nkosi.

"The changing environment is also challenging and will continue to challenge the role of CBEPs with regard to practitioners; the latter demanding a clear value add from professional registration. All CBEP has Acts to guide their administration processes. The CBE has a clear mandate to promote sound governance of the built environment professions, a mandate it is committed to execute diligently and in the public interest", observes Nkosi.

The public can, however, be confident that SACAP’s four categories of registered professionals are suitably qualified and have the competencies required to practice their respective category of registration.

“South Africa is the only country that recognises all four categories, ensuring each is suitably educated at their level and able to perform their specific scope of work,” O’Reilly confirms.

Architectural professionals must be in ‘good standing’ with SACAP and cannot practise without being registered. This gives the public, financial institutions, insurance companies and the profession at large the assurance that SACAP is accountable in terms of its public protection mandate.

“Architecture is the profession that can spatially transform communities, however, it has not made a significant impact on historically disadvantaged communities; the education of architectural professionals has to foster a culture of contextually responsive social ethics,” says Luckan.

“SACAP is currently revising its validation procedures to advance the level of engagement of student projects with society and the different scales of economy. The organisation does this via the validation of academic institutions, known as Architectural Learning Sites (ALS),” he adds.

ALS graduates are also required to register with SACAP and complete an internship under the supervision of a SACAP registered professional mentor. They must then complete a Professional Practice Exam (PPE) before they can upgrade and become a professional to practise and submit building plans.

In addition, the statutory requirement of CPD for each registered professional ensures that they keep up to date with advances in their respective field.

“SACAP has a CPD record of each professional and partners with accredited VAs to assist us to meet our mandates and assist our professionals to gain the CPD points they need to upgrade their competencies and skills,” O’Reilly confirms.

In line with its philosophy of not only meeting its mandates, but also ensuring that it adds value to its members, the Fourth Term Council is reviewing SACAP’s vision and mission to ensure that it is people-orientated and is able to successfully transform the architectural sector.

“The Fourth Term Council has thrown itself head first into ensuring this and I have the pleasure of working with them to achieve this milestone for South Africa,” says a proud O’Reilly, who holds a Bachelor of Commerce, a masters in Business Leadership and is currently reading for her PhD in Regulatory Frameworks.

SACAP’s role is an ‘holistic one’ in that it is involved in the many facets of the profession through its constant regulation and monitoring of the various activities within the architectural environment—from education, setting standards, registration and candidacy and mentoring, to CPD, establishing benchmark guideline fees, identifying the scope of work to perform, and enforcing a code of professional conduct.

SACAP and its management are heartened by the positive feedback it has received from its registered professionals to date, and it is committed to continually improving through its turn-around strategy.

Ensuring sector success

Without question one of SACAP’s major achievements to date has been succeeding in becoming one of the seven full signatories to the Canberra Accord. The importance of this membership is that it enables South African architectural professionals who have succeeded in graduating from SACAP ALS, to register to undertake architectural work in their choice of Canada, China, Korea, Mexico, the USA or 35 other countries represented by the Commonwealth Association of Architects.

“This allows for international recognition and portability of qualifications, ensuring that the level of education is maintained at an internationally acceptable standard,” says Luckan.

“Personally, I believe South African architects are among the best in the world, if not as popular, due to the complex and ever-transforming socio-economic context in which we practice,” he adds.

The interests of SACAP’s members are primarily protected through its VAs. As such, SACAP has formalised a VA Forum to discuss and obtain feedback on matters affecting architectural professionals.

Other SACAP milestones include receiving an unqualified audit for six consecutive years; implementing National Treasury’s Public Entities Annual Performance Plan, which operationalises its Strategic Plan 2014-2019; regulating the standards of education offered at tertiary institutions; and introducing the Women in Architecture South Africa programme, to address the transformation of women in the sector.

Besides limited transformation and critical skills shortages, the sector is faced with various other challenges, including previously disadvantaged individuals, especially women, who have limited access to architectural education; slow growth in the South African property sector, influencing the supply and demand of architectural skills; and a lack of awareness amongst the public about the importance of appointing suitably qualified architectural professionals.

Looking ahead

O’Reilly is a strategic thinker with a long-term vision for SACAP, and believes that leaders need to listen with openness and respond with insightfulness. She also highlights emotional intelligence as the single most important characteristic of a CEO.

“SACAP’s Fourth Term Council is committed to realising our vision of transforming, promoting and regulating people-centred architecture for South Africa. To achieve this, we are invested in developing transparent relationships, built on integrity and accountability,” says O’Reilly.

“The only currency that shows results is to consistently make the right decisions,” she concludes.

Luckan brings SACAP to the fore

Due to socio-economic challenges, Luckan could not access formal higher education in the professional architectural programme at university, and his journey to becoming a professional architect has been long, vast and varied.

He commenced studying draughtsmanship, but his formal studies were interrupted by the need to earn a living. Luckan later moved on to advancing his architectural knowledge of theory and design, by successfully completing a Bachelor of Technology degree.

“However, the only opportunity for me to become a professional architect at the time, was to enrol for a lengthy period of full-time studies at university, something I could not afford,” he says.

Luckan thus continued working and was offered part-time lecturing opportunities at the Durban-based ML Sultan Technikon (now Durban University of Technology aka DUT), where he enjoyed practice and academia but was desperate to advance his qualifications. In the early 2000s the University of KwaZulu-Natal began admitting BTech graduates into their Bachelor of Architecture Advanced degree and he seized the opportunity.

“I proceeded to the Master of Architecture degree via coursework (full-time), which I had to complete while working full-time in a permanent lecturer position and being involved in practice. I sacrificed sleep and earning potential, while having to take care of my family at the same time,” says Luckan who, sadly, lost his father to cancer a month before his thesis examination.

“What would have taken a privileged student six years to achieve took me over 17 years. However, I do not regret nor lay blame on circumstances; this experience has rather allowed me the very rare opportunity of reflection in action, which in turn catalysed a sensitivity within me to the struggles of others. I developed a deep concern for all those less fortunate than myself.”

It was not by coincidence that Luckan’s Doctorate degree focused on the transformation of architectural education. This generated the development of a new model which indirectly informed SACAP’s RPL model.

“In overcoming my challenges, I came to accept there were others facing worse challenges than mine and I realised the only way to a better life was to achieve my life goals and to keep the fire in my own belly burning. I do everything out of passion and a strong drive for social good,” says Luckan.

“As a leader, one must always place humanity above ego. Leadership offers one the opportunity to do what is right, to make a difference to broader society. Essentially, it is about understanding one’s place and potential in society,” he adds.

For more information about SACAP, visit www.sacapsa.com, contact (+27) 011 479 5000 or email info@sacapsa.com.

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