Learnerships: a solution to skills issues in South Africa, or a tangle of red tape?
By: DR Denise Meyerson
Denise Meyerson can be contacted on
Learnerships are touted by the Department of Labour (DoL) and by Seta’s (Sector Education and Training Authorities) as a means of developing key skills in all fields of learning. Learnerships are available to both employed and unemployed candidates and provide both the theoretical knowledge component as well as the practical experience a candidate requires to achieve a full, and nationally recognised qualification.
Add to this the tax incentives announced by the Minister of Finance, in his budget speech this year, and Learnerships certainly look attractive to the parties concerned – a win-win situation all round! Students gain a qualification that is not based purely on theory and have the opportunity to implement their skills in a real working environment. And, even if the organisation where they obtain the Learnership does not employ them thereafter, they nonetheless have a CV that includes on-the-job experience.
The organisation has the advantage of improving the skills of their employees with the assistance of Seta funding and strong tax incentives (although the exact quantum of these incentives is currently under review).
The economic sector as a whole also stands to win in terms of overall improvement in required skills areas and ultimately a possibility of meeting skills development targets agreed on in the National Skills Strategy.
2. Problem areas
So, where do the problem areas lie?
A. NQF and SAQA Requirements
In order to offer a Learnership, an organisation needs to be properly "NQF’ed" or "SAQA’rised". The principles of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) as well as those of the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) need to be in operation on a practical level.
What this implies is that the organisation would have in place:
1. Workplace assessors who are trained and qualified against the standards for assessors and registered on a database of national assessors;
2. A quality assurance system that would meet the criteria stipulated by the relevant ETQA (Education Training Quality Assurer);
3. Qualified and registered moderators who would ensure that assessment decisions are fair and correct;
4. A mentor who would be in a position to assist the Learnership candidate on a one-on-one basis;
5. Courseware that is aligned to unit standards (Unit standards are currently being written for all fields of learning and will stipulate the minimum requirements for signing off a candidate as being competent);
6. A full understanding of how to assist the candidate in developing a portfolio of evidence – the portfolio contains all the proof that a candidate meets the evidence requirements of a unit standard based on workplace experience. Portfolios are not familiar to candidates who have traditionally written examinations or devised assignments with no bearing to real working situations and experiences.
B. Documentation and legal contracts
The documentation and the many forms that need to be completed before commencing with a Learnership could be off-putting to smaller businesses that do not have an in-depth insight into the skills legislation.
Jargon that is not familiar to managers of SME’s coupled with complex commitments in the form of letters of intent, and legal contracts detracts from the value that learnerships could offer.
How many SME’s have completed a workplace skills plan? Even for the best intentioned, setting up a Learnership means hacking through a thicket of baffling forms and concepts.
In order to offer a successful Learnership, an organisation also needs to be geared up in terms of:
> > Recruitment of appropriate delegates
> > Induction of delegates into the Learnership
> > Co-ordination and management of the Learnership with reporting mechanisms in place for the Seta
All of this could of course be outsourced, but there would nevertheless be a requirement for the organisation to co-ordinate the assessment activities and to participate in the preparation for workplace assessment.
There are several examples of learnerships that are currently up and running, particularly within the Hospitality Sector. However, to my knowledge, there are no examples of completed learnerships where lessons could be learnt and improvements suggested. I understand the need to be patient and to allow the process to develop, but organizations will be questioning their return on investment with no proven success stories.
3. Final words
I am not advocating that learnerships be abandoned – they are without doubt an enabling mechanism to meet skills development targets. Seta’s are working extremely hard to make sure that learnerships are as "user-friendly" as possible and to disseminate excellent information.
My advice to organisations remains, however, to question whether they are learnership-ready before embarking on this route and to ensure that all systems and processes are in place in order to gain the maximum benefit for all stakeholders.