A learnership is a structured programme, typically over 12-24 months, during which time the learner will undergo theoretical and on-the-job training, thereby learning practical skills in the workplace directly related to a specific occupation or field of work – from engineering, to insurance to business process outsourcing and many more. It is a work-based learning programme that leads to a registered qualification on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF), and which is managed by the relevant Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs). Learnerships are unique to South Africa and were introduced by government to help upskill learners and to prepare them for the workplace, as well as transform skills development and education in South Africa.
Learnerships bridge the gap between the current education provided, versus what is needed by the labour market and employers. They are central to skills upliftment in South Africa and in bringing young people onto the employment ladder and into solid career and employment trajectories.
At the end of the learnership, learners have the opportunity to be assessed and certificated as competent at a level comparable with people already working in the same area. Learners who successfully complete their learnership will have a formal qualification ranked on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF).
Learnerships fall in line with SAQA/QCTO requirements and are a key element of the Skills Development strategy, designed to support local labour market conditions and skills requirements, special industry sector requirements, work opportunities and demands. Specific learnerships are generated out of specific skills needs or shortages in all economic sectors.
According to the Skills Development Act, a learnership must:
- Have a structured theoretical learning component.
- Must include practical work experience in a formal work environment that is relevant to the learnership.
- be governed by an agreement between the learner, employer and accredited training provider.
- Result in a formal qualification registered on the NQF and relate to an occupation.
- Include on-going mentorship, training, job rotation and assessment in order to fully support the learner.
The benefits for employers and learners are ample. In a country like South Africa where almost 50% of the employable population are sitting without jobs, the support and participation of government and the private sector in addressing the youth unemployment crisis cannot be overstated. Investing in learnerships and providing employment for trained learners once they have completed their studies is one of the best ways to make a meaningful impact on South Africa’s youth unemployment crisis – and it’s an economic and social imperative!
Benefits for employers
- Learnerships are developed by the industry so the skills sets and outcomes are aligned to the requirements of the specific occupation, industry and businesses operating in the sector. Companies can also engage with the learnership training provider to customise the learning programmes to meet the specific requirements of the workplace. Learnerships create well-rounded candidates who have a good grasp of all the work processes.
- Companies that provide learnership opportunities have a great opportunity to build up the skills pool not only for their businesses, but for the broader industry sector. This is good for long term planning, productivity and community upliftment.
- The credibility of qualifications that are registered on the NQF means that employers have the assurance that learners can demonstrate the competence reflected in their qualifications. It now means that learners now have the theoretical knowledge and on-the-job experience to ‘hit the ground running’ to coin a phrase.
- Employees are learning new skills and knowledge and will be applying them in the workplace, which means improved work standards, productivity and quality of work for companies.
- For companies offering learnerships, there are significant tax rebates and achievement of important employment equity objectives, more so for companies who then provide ongoing employment (absorption) of learners once the learnerships are completed. Learnerships earn points on the BEE Scorecard under both Employment Equity and Skills Development and there is a SARS Tax Rebate if the learnership is a registered learnership with the Department of Labour and the agreement is registered with the relevant SETA. This Tax Rebate is calculated per learner – a learnership for a disabled learner could translate into a R100k tax rebate for a 12-month learnership. There is an opportunity to make skills levy contributions work for the benefit of the company, its people and the communities in which it operates.
Benefits for Learners
- Job prospects are imminently better with sound theoretical and practical occupation-specific training backed by a nationally recognised qualification. If completed successfully, a learnership leads to the awarding of an NQF-registered qualification, which is recognised nationally. For millions, this is a way to achieve a formal qualification since tertiary education at university or technical/FET college remains out of reach for so many who simply cannot afford the tuition costs.
- For learners there is the fixed-term employment contract for the duration of the learnership, which often results in permanent employment upon completion if they have performed well and the company is in a position to offer ongoing employment. At the very least, there is far greater opportunity within the broader industry sector with a qualification and job experience.
- There is an opportunity to become a lifelong learner, and constantly upgrade and widen skills sets and knowledge. It makes excellent business sense for the employee and employer!
- The learner receives an allowance/stipend for the duration of the learnership which helps significantly with costs such as transport, meals and so on, while they learn.
For every business considering a learnership programme – whether an employed learnership for its own employees or an unemployed learnership – it starts with working with a professional, credible training and education partner that has the best interests of your business and the people that are trained and employed at heart.
Learnerships should lay the foundation of creating a learning, high performance culture within the business, that then feeds into further education and training initiatives. The track record and integrity of the L&D training partner cannot be emphasized enough in helping to build this intentional learning pathway that aligns to your business strategy and objectives.
Here are important criteria to guide you in the process of selecting the best training provider:
- SETA and ETQA accreditation – suitable training providers to deliver the off-the-job learning programmes and to conduct assessment must be registered with and accredited by their relevant ETQA in order to provide training interventions. The learnership partner must have the SETA accreditation to certify learner applicants that exit the learnership with an accredited NQF qualification.
- What is the provider’s completion rate in terms of how many learners successfully complete the learnership programmes, and how many are absorbed into jobs upon completion. The SETAs call for 100% of projects to be completed by learners, 90% learner retention during the program, 80% of applicants to acquire national certification and that 70% find permanent positions with host employers.
- Are there effective administration and record-keeping systems in place to track learners’ progress, notional hours and on the job experience.
- Are there sound learner selection practices in place – what recruitment and screening process is in place to ensure that the best learners are selected for the learnership opportunity.
- Staff expertise, experience and registration status are important.
- Adequate equipment and facilities – also check whether they have formal, quality workplace experience facilities where learners will do their practical, on the job hours.
- Do they have quality, outcomes-based learning material that will achieve the outcomes of the qualification?
- Are the assessment and moderation policies and practices current and fit for purpose.
- Do they deliver learner-centred education with an option of in-person and online that caters for a hybrid world of work? SA Business School has taken its learnership programmes online, revolutionising the way that learnerships are delivered in a rapidly changing organisational training and education environment. The online learnership is about interactive, online learning in combination with practical work experience, and should not be confused with ‘screen learning’. It gives learners a powerful introduction to an evolved world of work where more work and training is done online and remotely than at any other time in our history. The big benefit is that companies that have geographically dispersed learners across the country can now bring them together in one online learning platform where they get to interact with their trainers and content, at their own pace. The flexibility and modernisation that this brings to the learnership process is ground-breaking in South Africa.
- Do they have a track record of supporting learners throughout the learnership with adequate resources, couching, mentoring and management.
- What Quality Management Systems and processes are in place?
Working with a professional, credible training and education partner capable of a deep level of customisation and alignment of the learnerships to business strategy and people development objectives is key.