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Implementing learnerships in the workplace

Implementing learnerships in the workplace

By: Christof Vorwerk

Christoph Vorwerk can be contacted at cvorwerk@icon.co.za or at www.xasa.co.za

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

1. Introduction

Learnerships will be developed and implemented in the next few years and companies can start preparing for this. Sector Education and Training Authorities have registered more than 100 learnerships in the last six months and this total will grow dramatically in 2002.

Learnerships form one of the cornerstones of the Skills Development legislation introduced by the Department of Labour, and SETAs will be measured on their success in transforming the skills base in their respective sectors through the implementation of targeted learnerships.

This article forms the first of a series of four, which will examine some of the issues, opportunities and challenges related to implementing learnerships.

The articles will cover some of the issues emerging from the increased implementation of Learnerships, planning and preparing for learnerships, issues related to contracts of employment, and emerging best practice in the learnership arena.

Learnerships are not a panacea for all education and training problems. They can, however, form part of an overall human resource strategy. Introducing learnerships has infrastructure and resource implications. Investing in learnerships should therefore be done as part of a structured, systematic process. That is not to say that investing in learnerships is costly - the infrastructure and resources required for learnerships can also be utilised for other skills development needs.

This article provides an introduction and overview of the learnership system in general by addressing some frequently asked questions.


Q. Why should our company be interested in learnerships?


The answer to this question depends on whether you have a mind like a fox or a mind like a hedgehog, to use the analogy on which Clem Sunter bases his latest offering (Mind of a fox…)

> For the hedgehog:

Learnerships will provide a way of getting back additional grant money to maximise the return on the skills levies your company paid:

> For the fox:

+ If you get in early and train more learners than your company actually needs, you may be able to receive grants in excess of your levies. By hosting a larger number of learners, you will also reduce the unit cost per learner, as the fixed cost element will be spread over a larger number. You will also be able to choose which of the learners you wish to employ.

+ Learnerships can be used to address critical or strategic skill shortages in companies.

+ Learnerships create a way of addressing candidates identified for advancement in equity skills plans.


Q. Aren’t learnerships just apprenticeships in new clothing?


Learnerships are much more than apprenticeships. For instance, some of the early learnerships registered by the Department of Labour are at the level of degrees and professional articles. Apprenticeships themselves will in time be transformed into learnerships.

Learnerships should prove to be more flexible than apprenticeships. Part of this flexibility derives from the more flexible way in which qualifications are now being constructed. Learnerships that focus on only one level of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) require 1200 notional hours of learning to achieve the requisite number of credits. This could be achieved in six to 12 months (versus 3 years for a typical apprenticeship).

The new, more relevant qualifications currently being constructed, particularly in the technical area, also provide for more focused sets of skills than the typically blue-collar trades do.


Q. We’ve had several companies and training institutions knocking on our door offering us learnerships. How do we know that they are any good?


There are still many misconceptions about learnerships. Some companies and training institutions believe that they can cobble together a couple of courses and call that a learnership.

SETAs are unlikely to pay grants for these ad hoc learnerships. Grants will only be paid for formal learnerships that must fulfil the following criteria:

1 A learnership must be registered by the Department of Labour. Only a SETA can submit such an application. The application must demonstrate that some form of needs analysis for the skills required in the learnership has been done.

2 A learnership must culminate in a qualification registered by SAQA on the NQF.

3 A learnership requires a workplace experience component. How this is done and how the other, formal learning part is done forms the basis of the learnership agreement which is jointly signed by employer, learner and education / training provider.

The quickest way of dealing with such offerings is ask the following questions:

Q. Which SETA registered the learnership?

Q. Is the qualification registered on the NQF?

Q. What is its NLRD number (National Learner Record Database)?


Q. We’re just a very small company. All this sounds so overwhelming – we don’t have the time and resources to develop all this. What’s in it for us?


Most SETAs are aware of this issue. SETAs have to report separately on the development of skills in the SMME sector. Currently various solutions for assisting small companies are being considered. These include:

> Rotating learners through a number of small companies (to obtain broader experience as well as to spread the load).

> Allowing providers to take on greater responsibility for things such as administration, assessment, coaching and mentoring.

> Providing additional resources (e.g. external assessors).

Learnerships are the ideal way for small companies to develop the kind of skills base that they need to grow and prosper. In many other countries the experience has been that the SMME sector is the real beneficiary of learnership-type training schemes.


Q. What do we do if our SETA doesn’t have the type of learnership we need for our company?


SETAs will use their Sector Skills Plans (SSP) to identify sector-wide skills shortages. These SSPs are aggregated from the various Workplace Skills Plans submitted by individual companies. So ensure your WSP reflects these needs.

In addition, SETAs may have regional offices, committees and chambers for your specific industry. Use these forums and people to make your needs known. The skills you are looking for may not form part of the primary focus area of your SETA.

Another SETA may have registered the kind of learnership you are looking for. Inter-SETA arrangements can be made to offer such learnerships.

Generic Skills such as management, IT and finance will be needed in all sectors; so-called cross-sectoral learnerships will have to be developed and implemented. While there is a pilot project for cross-sectoral learnerships underway, this still has some way to go before complete clarity is established on how they will operate.


q. How do we keep up to date with developments in the learnership arena?


SETAs are responsible for the registration of learnerships. They will be able to update you on developments. Most SETAs have a dedicated manager for learnerships and in addition use newsletters and websites to inform their stakeholders of developments.

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Gary Watkins

Gary Watkins

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