Spotlight on learnerships
The lead article in the July edition of the newsletter proposed the idea, that learning, and development will increasingly become a ‘legal’ and ‘contractual’ situation. Training has (virtually) become a regulated business function based on levies, grants, quality assurance systems, and a National Qualification Framework. To date, learnerships are the first practical expression of this legal and contractual framework.
In the May 2001 edition of SETA Bulletin, a publication put out by the Department Of Labour, Kiki Sebona wrote "employers stand to gain substantially from the introduction of learnerships. Besides monetary incentives in the form of grants, the long-term benefits include the development of a skilled and productive workforce more likely to deliver an efficient service".
This article sets out to provide a concise ‘guide’ for line managers about the rationale behind the introduction of learnerships, and explains some of the technicalities of getting to grips with implementing learnerships.
# What is a learnership?
Learnerships are new work-based education and training programmes where learners learn not only why things are done but how they are done too. Training institutions provide the theoretical training while practical training happens at workplaces under normal working conditions. For a learnership to be successful learners must be able to use the skills that they have been taught. Learnerships must be carefully planned so that they happen in work situations where there is likely to be job opportunities in the future. There is no point in training people if there are no jobs or self-employment opportunities.
Learnerships are critically important to the success of the skills development strategy, as new skills so vital for boosting the South African economy will be learnt in this way. All learnership programmes are nationally recognised as qualifications and will be registered on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). They will appear at different NQF levels -from the introductory through to the professional levels. Developing a learnership Anyone who is interested in developing a learnership, or assisting to plan, design or implement one should contact a Sector Education and Training Authority. The SETAs should be able to advise about the processes involved in this, but will also know something about the range of learnerships being developed in each sector.
# Funding learnerships
Under the Skills Development Act, SETAs must disburse grants in line with the published funding regulations. The National Skills Fund will also make grants available for the design and development of these learning programmes. There are two ways in which employers will be able to claim grants for learnerships:
1 They can include learnerships in their Workplace Skills Plan. These Workplace Skills Plans
are submitted to SETAs in line with the requirements of the Skills Development Act. The grants received are calculated as a percentage of the levy paid to SARS.
2 They can claim additional grants for each Learnership Agreement entered into. These grants will only be available once learnerships are registered with the Department of Labour. On every Learnership Registration Form, the amount of the grant the SETA may pay to employers will be recorded.
The size of the grant will take many variables into account. If an employer provides a learnership for an unemployed person the employer may also be able to claim a grant towards the allowance that must be paid to the learner. However, employers should note that they must get the approval of the SETA for the grant before they proceed with an agreement with the learner -as the grants will depend on whether or not sufficient funds are available from the SETA. A SETA can decide whether or not to pay the grant.
# Considerations for establishing learnerships
The following issues require careful consideration when establishing leamerships:
1. There must be a need or demand for the leamership in the economy.
2. The proposed leamership must address labour market concerns, including unemployment, skill shortages, skill over-supply, between sector portability of competence, and SMME development.
3. The leamership must contain all the components required by the SAQA for awarding a NQF qualification.
4. The structured learning component and practical work experience components must be properly integrated.
5. The educational component of the learnership must, in addition to the specific educational requirements of the occupation, also include general educational content that relates to issues of national concern and national importance.
6. Assessment at the end of the learnership must measure applied competence.
7. The terms of reference of the learnership must clearly define how on-the-job training will be conducted.
8. The proposed learnership must create a platform for learners to access employment.
9. Accredited education and training providers must be available for the provision of the educational and training components of learning.
10. Employers with the required competence and resources must be available for the provision of the practical work experience component of learning.
11. Unit Standards of the NQF qualification to which the learnership will be attached, must have been developed and approved by the SAQA.
12. The relationship between the proposed learnership and other existing learnerships must be identified in terms of economic and educational value, duration, and overlap.
# Guidelines for establishing learnerships
First, and foremost, it is important to note that there is no prescribed procedure for establishing learnerships. The different contexts of different economic sectors will demand a particular approach, which could lead to the establishment of "best practice" procedures. The following guidelines would, however, be helpful to SETAs in their stride to establish learnerships for the development of skills within their particular business sectors.
1. The process of developing learnerships should involve key stakeholders, including the state, employers, organised labour and related education and training providers.
2. The first assignment of a "learnership design group" should be to establish a definite economic or social need for an envisaged learnership. In establishing the need, the working group should take note of the following realities:
(a) Increasing local and international competition is forcing the cutting of overhead costs, which leads to automation, and the reduction of employee numbers,
(b) Competitive pressures in the marketplace are also forcing employers to refocus their core business activities from time to time. New business initiatives require that employees learn new competences in relatively short time cycles,
(c) Compliance with world class business practices demand that organisations outsource business activities, which do not add value to the core business of the enterprise, and
(d) Globalisation and E-Commerce requires that business enterprises focus their product development and service delivery efforts beyond local, regional and national boundaries. This has actioned the development of business partnerships and strategic alliances with local and offshore organisations to maximise their effectiveness.
Two major consequences of these trends have been a significant reduction of intake of school, technical college, technikon, and university graduates in favour of people (including own staff in different positions) who have some related experience and a good employment track record, and a substantial reduction of human resources training and development infrastructures, including the closing of training centres, outsourcing of training, and the redeployment or retrenchment of in-house training staff.
3. Having defined the need for a learnership, the working group should then identify the range of occupations and employment contexts that will be covered by the learnership. The range should include both blue-and white-collar jobs and should as far as possible cut across traditionally defined business functions. The occupational and employment range definition of the learnership must promote economic growth, stimulate employment and increase social development within the economy of the country .The range definition should also aim to include occupations, which are most vulnerable in the labour market.
4. Next, the learnership design-working group should identify the qualification(s) on the NQF that could be attained on completion of the learnership. The choice of qualifications will be determined by the match between the Unit Standards of particular qualifications and the work requirements of the occupational and employment range definition developed in the previous step.
5. Based on the requirements of the Unit Standards of the selected qualifications, the working group should then define the structured education, training and practical work experience components of the learnership. Particular attention must be given to establishing how and where on-the-job training will be conducted and how the structured learning component and practical work experience components will be integrated.
6. Then, the working group should focus its attention on defining the monitoring, assessment and quality processes and procedures pertaining to both the structured learning and practical work experiences components of the learnership. The outcome of this step should answer the following key questions:
(a) How will trainee progress be tracked and monitored?
(b) How will the quality of learning be assured?
(c) When, how and by whom will trainees be assessed?
(d) What will they be assessed on at each stage?
(e) How will quality of assessment be assured?
7. Based on the choice of NQF qualification(s), the definitions of the structured and practical work experience components of the learnership, and the definition of monitoring, assessment and quality processes and procedures pertaining to each of the learning components of the learnership, the working group should now develop specifications for the following:
(a) Entry-Ievel qualification requirements for learners. These requirements should include criteria for prior learning and attained competences instead of traditional school qualification levels,
(b) Specifications and terms of reference for the appointment of appropriate education and training providers, and
(c) Qualification requirements for employers.
8 The final task of the learnership design working group should be to develop the pro-forma learnership contract documentation for one or more legal advisors to refine, in consultation with the members of the working group.
# Establishing learnership agreements
The Skills Development Act, 1998, clearly defines the terms of reference for establishing learnership agreements. The Act states that an "Iearnership agreement" is a contract entered into by:
1. A learner;
2. An employer, or a group of employers; and
3.Training providers accredited by an Education and Training Quality Assurer (ETQA). The Act further states that the terms of the learnership agreement must oblige an employer to:
1. Employ the learner for the period specified in the agreement.
2. Provide the learner with practical work experience specified in the agreement; and
3. Release the learner to attend the education and training specified in the agreement.
The terms of the learnership agreement must also oblige the learner to:
1. Work for the employer; and
2. Participate in the education and training specified in the agreement.
Finally, the terms of the learnership agreement must oblige the provider(s) of education and training to:
1. Provide the education and training specified in the agreement; and
2. Provide the learner support, specified in the agreement.
The agreement must be documented on prescribed stationery and registered with a SETA in the prescribed manner. Please note: the Minister Of Labour finally signed off The Learnership Regulations in April 2001.
The duration of the agreement will be the period of duration specified in the learnership contract. The agreement may, however, be terminated before the expiry date of the contract if:
1. The learner meets the requirements for the successful completion of the learnership;
2. The SETA, which registered the agreement, approves of such early termination; or
3. The learner is fairly dismissed for a reason related to the learner's conduct or capacity as an employee.
The employer or education and training providers that are party to a leamership agreement are bound to the agreement as specified in the learnership contract.
# Learnerships and contracts of employment with learners
An important distinction must be made between a learnership contract and an employment contract. A learnership contract is not per se an employment contract, although they are closely related. In this respect the Act states the following:
1. If a learner, party to a learnership contract was in the employment of the employer when the agreement was concluded, the learner's contract of employment is not affected by the agreement. In practice this means that the employer cannot terminate the learner's employment contract when the learnership contract is terminated for the reasons already explained;
2. If the party to a learners hip contract was not in the employment of the employer when the agreement was concluded, the learner and the employer must enter into a contract of employment if the learner is a "pre-employed" employee. If the learner party to a learnership contract is an " unemployed", the employer should enter into a contract of employment with the employee at least for the period of the employer's commitment to the learnership agreement.
The terms and conditions relating to the employment of learners with "unemployed" status may be determined by the Minister of the DOL on the recommendation of the Employment Conditions Commission, established by section 59(1) of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, 1997. Chapters Eight and Nine of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, 1997, provides for the publication of different conditions of service for different economic sectors. Chapter Eight defines the procedure for sectoral determinations of employment conditions and Chapter Nine defines the role and functioning of the Employment Conditions Commission in the determination process.
These provisions in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, 1997, allows for the setting of terms and conditions of employment of learners party to learnerships in a siQ1ilar way to the setting of conditions of employment for apprenticeships under the earlier Manpower Training Act, 1981 (Act No.56 of 1981).
Any party to a learnership agreement, a contract of employment of a learner, or a learner's conditions of service determined by the Minister of the DOL, may in writing refer the dispute to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) established by section l12 of the Labour Relations Act, 1995 (Act No.66 of 1995). The party who refers the dispute must serve a copy of the referral to all the other parties involved in the dispute and the CCMA must attempt to resolve the dispute through conciliation. U the dispute remains unresolved in the process of conciliation; the party who lodged the dispute may request that the dispute be resolved through arbitration as soon as possible. Legislation that govern the definitions of "lawfulness" and 'fairness" of a dismissal for a reason related to an employee's capacity or conduct applies to a dispute relating to a learner's contract of employment.