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The power of learnerships to transform youth employment in South Africa

Learnerships are powerful tools to address an age-old quandary - employers want people with skills and practical knowledge to hit the ground running and be immediately productive, while young people need a practical learning ground to gain the meaningful and valued on-the-job experience that employers so highly value.

South Africa faces a unique dilemma – a high unemployment rate, especially among youth (around 40%) and a shortage of skilled and qualified people to fill positions in many industries. This is where learnerships play a pivotal role, and where businesses can invest into developing the practical skills and theoretical knowledge needed in their businesses, while radically changing the youth unemployment trajectory.

A learnership is a structured work-based programme over 12-24 months whereby the learner undergoes theoretical and practical on-the-job training directly related to a specific occupation – from engineering, to insurance to business process outsourcing. It leads to a registered qualification on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) and is managed by the relevant Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs). Learnerships are unique to South Africa and were introduced by government to transform skills development and education in South Africa.

Benefits for employers

  • Learnerships are developed by the industry so the skills sets are aligned to the requirements of the specific businesses operating in the sector, developing well-rounded candidates who have a good grasp of all the work processes.
  • Employees learn new skills and knowledge that are applied in the workplace, which means improved standards, productivity and quality of work for companies.
  • There are significant tax rebates and achievement of employment equity objectives, more so for companies who provide ongoing employment (absorption) 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 relevant SETA. This Tax Rebate is calculated per learner – a disabled learnership for example could translate into a R100k tax rebate for a 12-month period. Skills levy contributions can really work for the benefit of the company, its people and communities.

Benefits for Learners

  • Job prospects are better with theoretical and occupation-specific training backed by a nationally recognised qualification. This is a way to achieve a formal qualification when tertiary education at university/technical/FET college remains out of reach for many who cannot afford the tuition costs.
  • The fixed-term employment contract for the duration of the learnership often results in permanent employment upon completion if the learner has performed well.
  • There is an opportunity to constantly upgrade and widen skills sets and knowledge. It makes excellent business sense for the employee and employer!
  • An allowance/stipend for the duration of the learnership helps significantly with costs such as transport, meals and so on.

Investing in growing South Africa’s BPO sector through learnerships

South Africa’s Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector is a rapidly growing industry and in high demand of skilled people. As a top offshoring destination, SA’s BPO sector is primed to employ 500 000 people in the next 10 years according to Business Process Enabling South Africa (BPESA). SA Business School, a SETA-accredited training provider within Alefbet Holdings serving the broader BPO industry has brought a significant differentiator to its learnerships by introducing an ‘executive edge’ to its training formula.

In the BPO sector, academic, technical and interpersonal skills training enable people to develop their career paths across different job roles and disciplines. Fundamental to anyone operating in such a customer-driven environment is the mastery of ‘soft’ skills such as empathy and the high EQ needed to work with people in a pressured environment.

For this reason, SA Business School puts learners through an Enneagram programme which is a powerful tool for personal self-knowledge and mastery, conflict resolution, team dynamics, leadership and developing emotional intelligence. Learners also undergo a comprehensive self-assessment with the Future Fit Index which assesses their effectiveness in the 15 critical skills needed to be effective now, and in the future world of work. Typically, these tools and training would only be available at an executive management level for people with years of work experience. However, we believe that grasping these skills at an early stage in career development helps guide young people starting out on the learnership path to take control of their career progression, much earlier on. The skills they derive in such a learnership environment are applicable in virtually every business and industry.

There can be no more powerful tool to tackle South Africa’s youth unemployment crisis than by investing in learnerships. It’s good for business, industry, the economy, and most fundamentally, for learners breaking out of hardship, unemployment and poverty.

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22 Mar 2021 10:07