South Africa has special problems, and these require special solutions. One problem that we have is our rising unemployment rate. In an attempt to help solve this, government created learnerships… but do they work?

Before we ask whether learnerships work, it is worthwhile understanding what a learnership is. A learnership is a work-based learning programme that leads to an NQF registered qualification. Learnerships are directly related to an occupation or field of work, for example, electrical engineering, hairdressing or project management. Learnerships are managed by Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs).

All very well and simple, and what makes learnerhips so popular is not the inherent good of what they are, but rather the significant benefits to companies that learnships bring. Firstly, there is funding available through the SETAs, then there are tax breaks, and finally, by adopting learners, you can improve your B-BBBE rating. All of this, while getting “free” junior staff (part of the funding goes towards learners’ stipends). This makes learnerships extremely attractive to organisations, and even more so to those companies who wish to manipulate the system.

Because of this, the efficacy of learnerships can be questioned as companies attempt to maximise these benefits, and push as many people through learnerships as possible, sacrificing both the quality of the education and the level of support that is supposed to be given by the host organisation.

“We don’t believe that the sausage factory approach to learnerships benefits anyone,” say ExecuTrain learnership expert, Sibusiso Tsima. “While we offer learnerships through Executrain, we make sure that we only partner with companies who truly want to make a difference to both the lives of the individuals in the programmes, and also to the health of their own organisations. It’s a bit like getting a puppy for Christmas…. the responsibility of putting a learner through a learnership programme is extensive.”

Executrain offers high quality courses as part of the learnership process, but also ensures that the right individuals are enrolled on the right programme and that the host company gets the best possible benefits from the arrangement. One way of doing this is to train senior people in the organization on how to mentor leaners and help them grow as part of the learnership.

So, like so many things, yes, of course learnerships work, they just need to be done properly and for the right reasons.


Learnership Benefits

To Employers

Relevance of training to business needs

    • Learnerships are developed by the industry for the industry, in consultation with all relevant stakeholders, so the learning programme and qualification of the Learners are relevant to the specific occupation
    • The outcomes of the learning programme meet the standards for the industry
    • Greater credibility of qualifications, as employers have the assurance that the learners can demonstrate the competence reflected in their qualifications
    • Opportunity to collaborate with training providers in customising learning programmes to meet specific workplace needs

Improved skills and work performance

    • A Learnership is a tool for multi-skilling, as it develops the competence of employees in every component of the work processes of an occupation
    • The learning route of a Learnership is more effective in promoting the practical application of learning in the workplace than most other routes
    • Because employees will be acquiring new knowledge and skills and applying these in the workplace, companies will be raising the skills levels of employees while improving work performance

Achievement of Employment Equity Objectives

    • Progress in meeting Employment Equity targets, since previously disadvantaged employees have opportunities to improve their work-related competence and obtain qualifications

Appropriately Trained Recruitment Pool of Potential Employees

    • Employers will be able to select employees from a wider pool of appropriately qualified workers who have developed skills that are relevant to the company’s specific work context

Increased Return on Investment in Training

    • Higher returns from the Skills Levy and investment in training, due to transfer of learning to the job, as well as increased grant disbursements from Skills Levy contributions


To Learners

Quality and Relevance of Training

    • Improved quality of the education and training they receive
    • Acquisition of the theoretical basis relevant to the occupation, as well as the ability to apply learning in the real work situation
    • Practical relevance of what they are learning

Development of Applied Competence Required in the Workplace

    • They will develop the ability:
      • to perform a set of job-related tasks – to actually do things
      • to understand what they are doing and why
      • to learn from what they are doing
      • to adapt what they are doing to changes and unforeseen circumstance

National recognition of competence

    • National recognition of learning achievements that have wider application than in a single workplace of one employer
    • Opportunity to obtain nationally recognised qualifications that are portable in the industry, across sectors and internationally
    • Opportunities to obtain higher levels of competence and certification that will enhance marketability

Improved access to and opportunities for employment or income-generation

    • Opportunities to acquire fixed-term employment contracts for the duration of the learnership
    • Opportunities for gainful employment, either with an employer, through self-employment or in temporary employment
    • Opportunities for employed learners for job advancement/enrichment, and/or promotion
    • Opportunities for fast-tracking the development of learners

Access to further learning

    • Access to further education and training opportunities, either through other learnerships or advanced training programmes


To Providers

Relevance of products to industry needs

  • Learning programmes are designed on the basis of existing industry needs, identified through the Services SETA Sector Skills Plans and the Learnership design process
  • Products and services are customised to industry needs because of the close co-operation with industry representatives in the development and delivery of the learning programmes
  • Greater credibility of qualifications, as they reflect the intended outcomes

New market opportunities

  • As Learnerships become established as a new route towards achieving qualifications, training institutions can take the initiative to develop programmes to fill this market
  • Parts of Learnerships can be presented as short courses or as Skills Programmes
  • Partnership in implementing Learnerships opens up new market opportunities, e.g. for providing services required for Learnership implementation. Such services could include assessment for recognition of prior learning, recruitment and selection processes
  • Opportunity for long-term contractual arrangements with learners and employers for the duration of the Learnership period, which is generally more than 12 months

Focus on core functions

  • The national Services SETA-driven Learnership process creates a structured environment within which providers can focus on their role in providing quality programmes, while other stakeholders take care of aspects such as the design and registration of qualifications


Tax Incentives (SARS)

Tax Incentives are deductions on your taxable income that you can claim for each learnership candidate that you have in your employment, once at the start of the learnership, and once again at its completion. These incentives are legislated in section 12H of the Income Tax Act, 58 of 1962 and the amendments made in January 2010.

There are only 2 levels.

  1. R 30 000 commencement and completion allowances for learnerships and apprenticeships
  2. R 50 000 commencement and completion allowances for learners with disabilities

The principle is straightforward.

  1. For each year that a learner is registered for a learnership linked to the employer’s trade, the employer claims and allowance of R 30 000 for that learnership. This allowance is based on a 12 months periods, and full periods of a month, so if a learnership starts half way through the employer’s year of assessment, half of the allowance is claimed by the employer in the first year and half in the second.
  2. If the learner leaves during the year, there is no recoupment. The R 30 000 is merely apportioned for the part of the year, so that if the learner leaves after 4 months, the employer only claims 4/12 of the allowance, i.e. R 10 000. These must be full months, so if the learner leaves after 3 and a half months, the allowance must be claimed for 3 months, i.e. 3/12 X R 30 000 = R 7 500.
  3. Similarly, if a learnership spans 3 and half months in the first year of assessment and 8 and a half months in the second year of assessment of a single employer, the employer claims commencement allowance of R 7500 in the first year and R 20 000 in the second year.
  4. When a learnership is successfully completed, the employer claims an allowance of R 30 000 for each completed 12 months of the learnership. So if it was a 2 year learnership, the employer claims an allowance of R 60 000. If the learnership was for 30 months, the employer’s allowance in the year of completion is also R 60 000, because two full periods of 12 months has been completed. No completion allowance is claimable until the learnership is successfully completed.
  5. If the learner goes to another employer while he is still doing his learnership and the learnership is carried on, linked to that employer’s trade, the new employer claims the learnership for the rest of the year, i.e. 8/12 X R 30 000 = R 20 000. The new employer will also claim the full completion allowance, even if the learner was not employed by that employer in the earlier years or months of the learnership.
  6. If a learner fails his or her learnership and registers for a new learnership, section 12H will not apply to the new learnership if it contains the same education and training component of the learnership that the person failed.

For more information on the tax benefits, read: SARS Learnership Incentives