With the introduction of the new Broad‐Based Black Economic Empowerment
(BBBEE) codes South African businesses have little choice but to implement
learnerships. This is not entirely a bad thing.
Not only does it up your companies BBBEE scorecard, learnerships contain the
essential components of theoretical knowledge and workplace experience. In doing
so, this provides truly varied methods of learning.
According to the new BBBEE codes, companies will have to spend 6% of their payroll
on accredited training of previously disadvantaged individuals and need to enroll 5%
of the total number of employees on a learnership.
Mr. Stefan Lauber, Managing Director of iFundi, spoke at a recent Community of
Expert event. "Many of our clients are no longer just concerned about how to tick
off their compliance checklist.
They are also asking themselves how they can get a better Return on
Investment if they spend such a large amount of money on learnership programmes'.
Even though South Africa has over five million unemployed people, companies
struggle to find the talent they need to succeed.
BBBEE skills development programmes are increasingly becoming part of
organisations talent management strategies. "Companies are tired of the recruit,
train and poaching cycle.
They have decided that they need to grow their own talent. Not only is it much
cheaper but produces a much better caliber of people.
iFundi have clients who have made learnerships the main entry point into their
organisations', Lauber shared.
Funding these programmes has been a major challenge. Typically organisations
have relied on grant funding, be that through the SETA they belong to or other
government sponsored programmes such as Monyetla.
Given the success of these programmes, there is simply much more demand than
that there is money available. Employers need to find more creative ways to fund
Fortunately South Africa has a very supportive policy environment. The workshop
showed that companies can hire and train learners at virtually no extra costs, if they
take advantage of the available Learnership Tax Break, the Employment Tax
Incentive and the lower salaries paid on learnerships.
"These savings are more or less equal to the cost of hosting a learner, including
training and allowances. In essence you get free labour. Who wouldnt like that? "
"In every company, there are staff that feel overworked. They could use help
from people who are well trained and know what they are doing. Here is an
opportunity, even if you have no additional funds. Since the learners salary can be
counted as training expenditure, learnerships are one of the easiest way to boost
your training spend within your current budget. In that way, you can earn up to 20%
of the total BBBEE score and another 5 points if you hire the learners at the end of
the a learnership.' Lauber said.
Earning BBBEE points at minimal costs is however only one concern. How can
employers be confident enough that learners add real value to their business?
Common wisdom suggests that the performance of learners with no
previous experience would lag behind that of experienced hires. The results
contradict that assumption.
"We see time and again that learners trained by i‐Fundi outperform other staff.
One reason being is the quality of training. Another reason is that learners are highly
motivated, they are eager to prove themselves and are grateful for the
opportunity to apply their new skills' Lauber observes.
"Human Resource practitioners need to speak the language of business, which is
Rands and Cents. They need to show the Return of Investment of their initiative.'
Lauber reminded the participants, while explaining how that can be done. "Although
most agree, a few clients systematically measure their returns'.
Aegis, a leading international outsourcer, compared the performance of recruits
with experience against that of learners with no experience on an international
project. The learners outperformed hires with previous experience within the first 30
days. Learners were retained for longer even though their salary was lower. They
were also less absent and more punctual which Lauber attributes to their eagerness
Who should manage the implementation of a learnership programme?
"Someone, who really enjoys developing people' Lauber advises. Learners can sense
whether a company has their best interest at heart or not. They commit if they feel
that you genuinely care about them.
Only a few companies are willing to deal with the administrative burden of getting
their training accredited. They would rather work through an external training
Companies have to make sure that a providers accreditation is current. Being
able to get SETA certificates for the learners is obviously vital but often easier said
than done. Not only must a provider be able to meet all the requirements of a SETA
but it must also be able to drive the process. It is therefore important for an
employer to check references with previous clients and possibly even talk to the
Having implemented over 8000 learnerships, Lauber has learned that you need
strong project management skills.
Before starting both parties need to agree on roles and responsibilities, scope
and the schedule for the project, all of which become part of a Service Level
Agreement. Apart from that whoever you partner with must be committed to walk
the distance with you, to resolve any issues as soon as they arise.
Providers must have the experience to design a programme in such a way that
the schedule does not conflict with operational needs. Asking learners to complete
large amounts of work outside the classroom is also doomed to fail as many learners
leave home very early in the morning and return home late. Yet the programme still
needs to meet the standards of SAQA. Being able to balance these conflicting needs,
requires a mature provider.
In order for you to claim your BBBEE points and to take advantage of the tax
incentives that are available, it is important to keep record of all the necessary
documentation. This in itself is not too difficult but requires attention
to detail. It is particularly important to make sure that your company completes its
Workplace Skills Plan (WSP) and returns the Annual Training Report (ATR) to the
relevant SETA on a yearly basis. Without it you cannot score any BBBEE points for
skills development, Lauber reminded the participants. A list of the required
documents is available here.
Companies often ask where they can find learners? There are numerous options.
A company may choose from the many applications that they receive over time.
They may also work through a recruitment agency or partner with schools or non‐
profit organisations, particularly if they are looking for disabled learners.
A good approach is for companies to ask their employees for referrals. Your staff
knows your companys culture and would not like to embarrass themselves by
introducing a wrong candidate to you. Showing that your company
is making an effort to reduce unemployment through learnerships also increases
employee engagement. "Recruit for attitude and train for skills' is still correct.
Learnerships are however not only for the unemployed. Companies can enroll
their staff on a national qualification that is recognised by SAQA. Research has
shown that skilled staff perform better. Numerous surveys have also shown that
millenniums are looking for growth on the job when choosing their employers. To
retain their staff, organisations need to clearly communicate how their career paths
are matched with ladders of learning and increased earning power.
Developing staff also builds leadership, which in turns helps again with attrition.
As the saying goes, employees leave bad managers not companies. Learnerships are
powerful and effective. They offer a structured learning environment and formal
assessment process that benefit South African businesses. Companies can develop
their own talent pipeline while reducing costs and contributing to Broad‐based Black
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