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Preparing to implement learnerships

Preparing to implement learnerships

By: Christoph Vorwerk

Web: www.xasa.co.za

E-mail: cvorwerk@icon.co.za

Christoph Vorwerk was part of the working group that developed the learnership framework document and implementation guidelines for the Department of Labour.


1. Introduction

For companies to get their skills levies back, they will have to concentrate on improving their support of learning.

This article focuses on how we change current practices in the field of training and development to, in many cases, realign old ways with new requirements in order to benefit from the financial incentives available to skill one’s workforce. A brief review of differences and requirements for skill programmes and learnerships is provided as background to the main topic.

2. Background

Discretionary grants paid out by SETAs will not be for attendance at ad-hoc, or miscellaneous training courses not tied to business, skill development (and ultimately EE) plans; instead, they will mainly focus on learners who complete skills programmes and learnerships. The newly announced tax incentives will also be based on the successful conclusion of learnership agreements.

Learnerships and skills programmes are different from the course-based approach of the past. The focus now is not on what you present to people, but on the processes by which they learn to become competent.

The Skills Development legislation creates the framework for these learning processes. Learnerships:

>> Consist of a structured learning component

>> Include practical work experience of a specified nature and duration

>> Lead to a qualification that is (a) Registered on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF), and (b) Relates to a specific occupation

>> Skills programmes are occupationally based and when completed, they constitute a credit/credits towards a qualification registered in terms of the NQF

The Skills Development legislation is thus firmly embedded in the National Qualifications Framework. The following concepts are firmly entrenched in both learnerships and skills programmes.

The National Skills Board Regulations of March 1998 has defined the criteria for quality training and learning practices in the workplace. Three core requirements exist:

>> "APPLIED COMPETENCE" i.e. the ability to put into practice in the relevant context the learning outcomes acquired in obtaining a qualification;

>> "INTEGRATED ASSESSMENT" i.e. assessment which permits the learner to demonstrate applied competence, and which uses a range of formative (interim), and summative (overall) assessment methods

>> "A QUALIFICATION" that represent a planned combination of learning outcomes which has a defined purpose or purposes, and which is intended to provide qualifying learners with applied competence and a basis for further learning

The consequence of these pieces of legislation and the NQF regulations is that the focus shifts from the classroom to the point of application. The end result of the learning is application in a real-world environment.

3. Support for learning and development

A key aspect to support this shift and, therefore, of implementing learnerships and skills programmes in the workplace, is to support learners with assessors, coaches and mentors. People performing these roles will play a key part in the success of learnerships and skills programmes.

Skills programmes are also included here because the learning processes will be very similar to those of learnerships.

Learning processes that will be required for successful completion of learnerships and skills programmes in the workplace consist mainly of the following:

>> Practice

>> Development and honing of skills

>> Development of critical outcomes

Companies will have to focus on supporting such activities. Most current training practices and development processes focus on the classroom aspect of learning. Very little emphasis is placed on the transfer of classroom learning to the point of application; nor does much of the classroom-learning take into account conditions and difficulties faced in the workplace.

Q. How do we change current practices?

We will have to develop learner support systems, which will include developing current staff to take on additional responsibilities:

>> Assessing

>> Coaching

>> Mentoring

Q. Who will be the coaches, mentors and assessors?

Firstly, it’s not the title that counts: it’s the role. Focus on the coaching and not the coach. Secondly, coaching and mentoring are natural activities – they occur every day within organisations.

These roles are part of our learning processes. When we have mastered particular activities we are inclined and willing to pass on our knowledge and experience. It’s an indication that we have mastered particular activities. Most people actually like to help those that follow or need assistance.

The process is ancient, cross-cultural and formalised in the apprenticeship system. The master craftsman or teacher contracts with the parents of the young person to initiate the learner into the trade or craft.

This characteristic can be observed within companies – watch whom newcomers, or learners approach for help. Newcomers and learners always gravitate towards (or are directed by old timers) to those people who excel in a task, or job, and those who are approachable and willing to share their expertise.

However, the activities may not be so evident because:

>> They have been pushed underground by a competitive environment

>> Expertise has been retrenched out of companies

> They have been overshadowed by the primacy of text-based learning, e-learning, and other "information-push" techniques

We can build on that characteristic, that innate capacity to help others. We will need to formalise it a bit, recognise and acknowledge those that are doing it and add these roles to job descriptions.

We also have to provide support for these roles, and to improve coaching, mentoring and assessment techniques. To encourage people to participate, we can register them on their own learning programmes to achieve their own credits and qualifications for the additional skills.

Many of the higher-level qualifications are including such skills as part of those qualifications. Other method of supporting the coaching and mentoring roles is in providing materials, resources and assistance. But in the end, if we don’t provide recognition and acknowledgement for these activities, the whole system fails.

Q. What is the function and purpose of the role of mentor and coach?

Primarily they initiate the learner into the community of expert practice. Coaching would focus on the development of techniques, specific skills, reading the environment and solving problems. Mentoring would have a broader purpose and focus on approaches, strategies and issues.

Q. What is the function and purpose of the role of the assessor?

The role of assessors in the workplace is absolutely critical to the success of the new system. Assessing maintains the standards and focuses on the learning outcomes, and the requirements of the skills standard, and provides feedback to the learner.

Assessment happens in several contexts.

# Formative assessment:

>> Mediates the unit standard or qualification

>> Compares learning to the required standard

>> Identifies problem areas

>> Provides feedback

>> Prepares the learner for the summative assessment

# Summative assessment:

>> Verifies the learning process

>> Maintains the standard of performance

What are the benefits of having coaches, mentors, and assessors?

Promoting mentoring, coaching and assessing creates better work relations overall. It fosters team spirit and gives people additional recognition. It transfers more that just knowledge, but attitudes and values too. It also helps to integrate the learner into the community and can engender much pride.

However, many will distrust the motives of management whose past actions have destroyed people’s willingness to impart knowledge. Also, some people may misuse coaching and mentoring to:

>> Exaggerate their importance

>> Bully learners

>> Undermine the organisation

Implementing this part of the learner support system may require some thought, preparation, and perseverance, and most important of all A CORE SET OF LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT POLICIES that specify the roles, responsibilities, rewards, and sanctions for support/not supporting company policy for reclaiming levies and grants.

Q. How do coaches, mentors and assessors play a role in learnerships specifically?

A broad description of how the coach, mentor and assessor roles relate to specific aspects of learnerships is described here. It also illustrates some of the POLICIES, AND PROCEDURES FOR (RE) DEFINING THE ROLES OF MANAGERS AND HUMAN RESOURCE SPECIALISTS TO FIT WITH THE NEW TRAINING SCENE.

Some of the processes, roles, and responsibilities that you will have to think through before implementing learnerships are:

1. Selection of learners – the whole team

2. Assess for prior learning (RPL) – Assessor

3. Develop learning programme – Mentor

4. Develop and sign learning contract – Mentor

5. Induction and/or orientation – Mentor

6. Workplace observation – Coach

7.Formal course providers - Instructors/external provider

8. Relating theory/course work to the work context – Coach

9. Formative assessment – Assessor

10. Problem solving (learning, interpersonal relations,

discipline – Mentor

11. Summative assessment - Assessor

From this it becomes clear that the Skills Development legislation, and the NQF change the entire focus of the learning process. Previously, the curriculum, the syllabus, the course, the manual, the teacher and the instructor embodied standards.

Now, the standard is external, and the learning outcomes and the assessment criteria are found in the unit standard or qualification.

It becomes a team effort by coach, mentor and assessor to get the learner to succeed. Assessment covers not only the technical aspects of the work (the ‘job’ or the specific outcomes), but also the broader personal skills – the critical outcomes, such as problem solving, team work, communication and working with information. In addition, coaches will have to help link the theory to the application and deepen the understanding of theory through application.

A learner support system sounds very daunting - what else is required?

Coaches, mentors and assessors are not the only elements of a learner support system. In addition, you need POLICIES AND PROCEDURES that specify:

>> Learning resources (books, operational manuals, videos, simulators)

>> Budgets

>> Working materials

>> Unit standards and qualifications

>> Networks for coaches, mentors, assessors and formal providers

>> Networks for learners

>> Recognition by management for these activities

Quality assurance is also required in the form of standard procedures, benchmarks, measuring techniques, feedback and continuous improvement.


To get SETA grants, companies will have to implement learning systems. The learning systems in companies will have to be geared to satisfying the requirements of the NQF and to supporting learners. Integral parts of such a system are the people who can play the roles of mentor, coach, and assessor.

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