Could Learnerships Be the Answer to SA’s Youth Unemployment Crisis?

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Every year billions are spent on training and skills programmes for South Africa’s youth. The challenge is that while they teach tens of thousands of youth new skills, they don’t necessarily create a clear path into actual jobs.


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In fact, Stats SA’s latest quarterly employment figures suggest things are getting worse, with more than four out of every 10 young South Africans currently being jobless.

What’s needed is a more targeted approach. For a growing number of institutions and businesses, the answer appears to lie in youth learnership programmes that lead to direct employment. The World Bank and the International Labour Organisation certainly think so, saying learnerships can have long-term positive effects on skills development, entrepreneurship and economic development.

Shobana Maikoo, Head of TransUnion’s Global Capability Centre (GCC) in Africa, says learnerships are a key tool in South Africa’s ongoing struggle to get young people employed. The GCC’s own experience highlights the effectiveness of this approach. Since being founded in 2021, it has taken 60% of its 100+ learners into full-time employment after their 12-month learnerships.

“Businesses need to be more precise in their upskilling efforts and focus on specific skills that are sought after in the local market – in other words, skills that will land these learners actual jobs. The beauty of learnerships is that they effectively provide on-the-job training for the roles the youth might transition into,” says Maikoo.

The transformative effects of a learnership cannot be understated. Just ask 25-year-old Ntombikayise Skosana of Tsakane, who matriculated in 2014 and was then unemployed for seven years. With no experience, she couldn’t get a job. With no job, she couldn’t get experience. It’s a familiar catch-22 that millions of our youth know all too well. Skosana started her learnership at the GCC Africa in November 2021, and today she’s a Management Information Systems (MIS) analyst, looking to build on her qualifications and develop a meaningful career.

“Our learnership programme has been designed to cater to young individuals with limited work experience or qualifications. Over the course of 12 months, they get international work experience and practical skills by working alongside experienced professionals and being involved in real projects,” says Maikoo.

Another GCC learner, 28-year-old mother of one, Mbali Ndimande, grew up in Orange Farm in the south of Johannesburg. Despite graduating from the University of Johannesburg, she found herself unemployed for years, and was about to give up hope of finding stable employment. She joined TransUnion’s GCC Africa learnership programme in November 2022, and today works full-time in the client operations department, supporting TransUnion’s United States market.

It’s not just the learners themselves who benefit though. Employers benefit from financial support, including government grants, tax deductions and B-BBEE points, for providing learnership training. Learnership programmes also create a pipeline of skilled employees, who add value to the business and support its growth.

“Many South African businesses spend significant amounts of money each year on skills and development programmes. Our challenge to the broader business sector is to find ways to create more learnerships. In the process, they’ll have a far greater impact on their own businesses, while helping make a dent in our country’s unemployment crisis,” says Maikoo.

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.

 

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Learnerships are becoming a popular way to develop skills and gain real work experience in the labour market. What is a Learnership? How does a Learnership work? We have the answers to your questions.

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