Simplifying Learnerships, SETA, SARS And Employers



We are finding that there is still too little clarity around the subject of vocational learnerships.  Learnerships are indeed a win-win for all parties involved. 



We are finding that there is still too little clarity around the subject of vocational learnerships. Learnerships are indeed a win-win for all parties involved.

What are learnerships and why do employers offer them?

Firstly there are two kinds:
Employed learnerships: The learner is already employed and an employer is offering them a chance to develop their skills for better promotional prospects and/or long term employability. Benefits to the company include a better B-BBEE scorecard, staff retention and relevance of skill.

Unemployed learnerships: These can be offered as part of a community upliftment programme for unemployed South Africans and/or for the purposes of creating a skilled pool of potential job candidates, once again this offering adds to the B-BBEE scorecard.

Learnerships are only available for young people between the ages of 16 to 35 years.

The process to be followed, should you be happy to fund the learnership as an employer.
Firstly the employer needs to appoint a SDF (Skills Development Facilitator) internal or external, who is responsible for the submission of a Workplace Skills Plan (WSP) by the end of April each year. The WSP is then submitted to the SETA the employer is registered with. The WSP can include the intention to enrol learners, but it is not yet a registration of learners on a learnership.

The next step is to appoint a Training Provider who will project manage and carry out the work of registration and presenting the learnership. Alternatively, the employer can manage their own learnerships administratively and outsource the training portion. The employer will also need to provide access to coaches and mentors in the workplace to guide the learners through the practical aspect of the learnership requirements.

During each year that the learnership is in progress, the company is able to claim a tax refund of R40 000 per learner. In addition, in the year the learnership is completed an additional R20 000 tax rebate can be claimed. These tax rebates (quoted at the minimum amounts) alone can pay for the cost of the learnerships in many instances, excluding the possibility of additional rebates from SETA.

The process to be followed should you wish to access SETA Discretionary Grant Funding
If you wish to access additional finance in the form of Discretionary Grant Funding from your SETA, you need to apply for this once the SETA opens their Discretionary Grant window and prior to commencing the learnership. Your Skills Development Facilitator should be in contact with the SETA regularly to make sure he or she is aware of Discretionary Grants that open up. This could potentially mean that the full cost of the learnership is reimbursed to the company and/or a portion thereof, but also possibly none. You will need to have a valid SDL (Skills Development Levy) number and be registered with the SETA where you apply for the Discretionary Grant.

Why then are more employers not jumping at the chance of entering into this win-win situation as it is clear to see that the SARS rebates alone are extremely generous? In some cases more than double the cost of the learnership.

The reasons being cited are as follows:

1. Employers are unaware of the SARS tax rebates.
2. There is a cash flow challenge as the rebates are retrospective.
3. The provision of mentors and coaches are seen as being a burden.
4. Balancing of operational requirements and provision of free time for onsite learning.

We would however like to challenge the thinking specifically on the last two objections.
Good management is purely coaching and mentoring. The approach to the learner should simply be that of a manager exercising good delegation techniques according to the situational management theory. Different people will simply need different leadership for differing scenarios. The allocated time by a coach or mentor to a learner does not necessarily need to be one on one, nor should it be seen as a problem. If the approach is one of building capacity, this aspect of the learnership can indeed save time in the long term, not only that it can challenge your management to improve their delegation skills.

Finally with reference to the balancing of operational requirements with classroom time for employed learners.

It can be expected that as soon as the learner starts applying the learning, there will be a spinoff of time saving due to better decision making and execution of tasks. In addition, many of the learnerships do not exceed 2 or 3 days a month in the classroom. In this instance I would like to point the reader in the direction of companies like Investec, General Electric and Dropbox who are starting to realise that input is not the same as output and the more forward thinking we are on the issues of time spent at work, rather than time spent working, the more likely we are to retain the workforce we want. This article ( will give you some more insight.

In addition one of the spinoffs of a culture of training in an organisation is that it acts as a motivational tool leading to much better engagement and heightened productivity, the fear of lost operational time starts paling significantly.

The Learnership programme was developed in South Africa as a modern way to advance apprenticeships to meet the modern demands of the workplace. Learnerships also manage to formalise the learning and workplace experience - which is usually sadly lacking in internships offered by companies.

Another significant benefit of Learnerships over internships is that Learnerships come with a formal pay structure where learners will be paid a monthly stipend, or payment, for the time they are on the Learnership. Also, internships do not have a learning component, while Learnerships are all linked directly to a formal qualification.

Should you wish to explore the potential of learnerships as an employer, please do not hesitate to contact [email protected] or [email protected] for more guidance.
Staff Training is a South African soft skills training provider. Contact us at 0861 996 660 or drop us an email.

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