How to make learnerships work in South Africa - HR Future helps people prepare for the Future of Work and is South Africa's leading print, digital and online Human Resources magazine.

How to make learnerships work in South Africa

The mass development of highly-skilled professionals is essential to most of South Africa’s key growth industries, including manufacturing, finance, mining and technology.

However, new infrastructure and business investment in the country have slowed down significantly in recent years due to declining business confidence. We will explore how learnerships can unlock positive, sustained economic growth.

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Human Capital Index, only 3.5 million South Africans, out of a population of 55 million people, are educated at tertiary level.

This contributes to an Index ranking of 88th out of 130 countries around the world, in a measure of ability to “maximise and leverage the human capital endowment”.

There are a multitude of risks to not having a highly-skilled population, with the most glaring being the deceleration of South Africa’s economic growth into recession, and a spike in unemployment to a 13-year high in the first quarter of 2017.

The RMB/BER Business Confidence Index (BCI) was recorded at 29 (out of 100) in the second quarter of 2017. Confidence has been below the neutral 50 points mark for more than two years – a pattern consistent with an economy continuously on the backfoot.

Even if, as some commentators recommend, there is a complete overhaul in Government leadership, the aggressive development of skills and education is the most vital, sustainable long-term way to becoming a sophisticated economy that produces maximum value through services and technology.

The Government’s Skills Development Act (1998) is bearing fruit, but it is equally important that the public and private sector uses the best approach when implementing training programmes to extract the most value from investments.

Despite the growing pains since its establishment in 1998, the learnership system has proved to be the most impactful way of bringing previously disadvantaged individuals into the mainstream economy.

Over the years, we have found that the key to a successful learnership process is its ability to incorporate several vital elements in an integrated and holistic way:

Relevant practical skills

It isn’t advisable to isolate learners in some distant “training room” away from the main floor. From day one, learners must feel “a part of” rather than “apart from” the heart of the business. A good learnership should strive to develop quality, relevant and practical skills that make a difference to the business from the beginning. In this way, learners gain immediate feedback and see the result of their work.

Structured learning

Learnerships should have clear deliverables from the start. This might seem obvious, but it is worth reaffirming these at every stage of the process, with learning outcomes measured against the curriculum, as well as business needs. 

Monitoring

There should be constant and active interaction between the relevant Sector Education and Training Authority, the training provider, the employer and the learner. This is not a one-way process and the learner should always be encouraged to provide feedback on the relevance of the content and the process. 

Mentorship

Each learner must be exposed to a highly-experienced and inspirational individual who will impart knowledge, vast experience and passion for the chosen discipline. At times, retired experts might be approached to partially come out of retirement, to help mould future generations of professionals.

Adele Hall is Vice President and Head of Transformation of Saab Grintek Defence.

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