Fly-by-nights: cheaper but risky

Dr Karen Deller

Every industry has its rogue agents. In the training world these rogues are called fly-by-night colleges and, just like rogue agents, they capture a bigger share of the market than they should because they are cheaper, but there are many risks to the consumer in dealing with them.

Some years ago the Estate Agency Affairs Board (EAAB) introduced a programme to professionalise the real estate sector and a big part of this involved training of agents and principals against a nationally-registered qualification. The training providers who offer this training need to be properly registered by the Department of Higher Education & Training (and have a certificate to prove this) and they need to be accredited by the Services SETA for the actual qualification being training (This is the first clue to safeguard against a fly-by-night: ask for the DHET certificate and ask for the Services SETA letter of accreditation, both of which must name the actual real estate qualification.)

Training sounds easy, but the provider needs access to registered assessors and moderators (who are in short supply in the real estate sector), premises, infrastructure and experienced facilitators. This cannot be maintained if costs are cut to as low as R2500 or R3500 for a full qualification. The SETA itself pays providers R18 000 to train the qualification, and they certainly have an idea of what it takes to maintain quality standards. If you are paying a lot less than this then you should really be suspicious.

One way that rogue training providers claim they can offer lower cost qualifications is by offering recognition of prior learning (RPL) instead of training. RPL is an accepted process that is typically aimed at people who have been working for a while and who have learnt everything about a topic on-the-job. These providers lure interns in with the promise that the “SETA will never know” and that they can just “do research” to get the answers. Even worse, rogues offer the agents the actual answers.

Let me state categorically that there is nothing wrong with RPL for an experienced agent or principal with extensive workplace experience. There is also nothing wrong with RPL if an intern has extensive working experience in an allied business sector (for example insurance sales) and they are correctly profiled to assess which unit standards (course modules) can be RPL-ed and which should be trained. But here is something very wrong with a rogue provider offering a new intern the option of completing their qualification through RPL as a sole methodology. It’s exactly the same as the rogue estate agent offering discounted commission structures to your client to win their sole mandate.

Why is it wrong? Well because the qualification is complex and even agents with a lot of experience have battled with RPL in the past. Typically, agents do not do get exposed to all of the content in the National FET Certificate: Real Estate. For example, theoretical concepts such as business planning, economic market analysis, self-development strategies and code of conduct theories are not typically learnt on the job as an agent. So, if experienced agents battled with RPL, why does anyone think it is a good idea for new interns? The truth is that no one really does. They just see the price of R2500 for a full qualification through a rogue provider vs R18 000 for the same qualification through a provider who is properly accredited and doing the right things – and they go with the cheapest. And yet we all know that quality has a price and that cheapest is rarely the best choice.

This “buy-cheap” strategy is risky. The Services SETA (who quality assures both providers and assessment outcomes) is being regularly alerted to these dishonest RPL practices and they are developing a policy to judge the providers against. The SETA is not afraid to take action against rogue training providers, just ask the agents who studied through providers who charged cheap but were de-accredited. Thousands of agents and principals have paid money to these rogue providers in the past, done all the work, not been certificated and they had to pay a new provider and start again.

The same is about to happen again soon with the rogue providers offering RPL to interns who are clearly not RPL candidates.

How can you avoid being scammed:

  • Check the providers DHET certificate (it must list the qualification you are paying for) or they must at least be able to prove that they have applied for registration;
  • Check the Services SETA accreditation letter (it must list the qualification you are paying for) and if you are doing RPL the letter must state that the provider is accredited to offer the qualification through RPL;
  • If you are being sold RPL, ask them to do a pre-assessment with you to see if you are really an RPL candidate;
  • Remember that the SETA itself has set a rack rate of R18 000 for the training of a full qualification. Ask yourself – what corners are the provider cutting to be able to offer this so much cheaper than the SETA’s own rack rate.

Bottomline – RPL is for experienced agents. RPL is not for new interns. Partial RPL and partial training may well be a solution for interns with some work experience but they will not find it easy. Choose your training service provider wisely.

Read more: Services SETA on real estate qualifications

About the author: Dr Karen Deller completed her doctoral thesis on RPL in the occupational sector so she has had extensive first-hand experience of all matters RPL. She is the academic director of the legitimately accredited training provider Chartall Business College.

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