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How learnerships can address youth unemployment and boost business rankings

SOUTH AFRICA’S youth unemployment rate is staggeringly high, with 66,5% of all unemployed people currently between the ages of 15 and 24. This figure increases annually as more than 500 000 matriculants enter the workforce and tertiary institutions, only to be met with a lack of real opportunities.

In comparison to other developing nations, South Africa’s economy is vibrant and advanced – and there is the potential to create opportunities across the region.

With this in mind, the government offers incentives to businesses that facilitate learnership programmes. This is a significant opportunity for companies to upskill the unemployed and the employed, as well as their staff, and by funding training, companies can gain the means to improve their Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) ranking.

Overcoming obstacles through hands-on training

What is the biggest obstacle for school leavers as they become job seekers? The fact that it’s almost impossible to get a job without experience, and it’s impossible to gain experience without a job. Learnerships are a unique solution to this age-old impasse, because they bring together invaluable workplace experience and industry-relevant training in a manner that produces a versatile individual with the required knowledge and a level of practical experience to find and fill a position within that specific sector.

A learnership is a structured work-based programme that runs over 12 to 24 months, during which the person is exposed to theoretical and practical on-the-job training that relates to a specific occupation.

Leveraging learnerships

As such, learnerships are the pathway to a registered qualification on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) that is managed by the relevant sector education and training authorities (Setas).

The benefit for the sponsor or funding company is that learnerships contribute towards the company’s employment equity objectives, in addition to enhancing skills development internally.

The government also offers tax incentives and cash grants in addition to B-BBEE rating incentives to companies for participating in learnerships.

These incentives are even higher for companies that provide ongoing employment (absorption) once the learnerships are completed. Learnerships are awarded points on the B-BBEE Scorecard under both Employment Equity and Skills Development, and there is a South African Revenue Service (Sars) tax allowance if the learnership is registered with the Department of Labour and relevant Seta.

Such an allowance is calculated on a case-by-case basis. For example, a disabled learnership could translate into a R120 000 tax allowance, and an abled-person learnership could translate into an R80 000 tax allowance over 12 months.
Furthermore, skills levy contributions made this way can truly work for the benefit of the company, its people and the communities they touch.

Benefits

Given that learnerships are developed to be industry-specific, participants gain skill sets that are closely aligned with the requirements of businesses operating within those sectors. This develops candidates that have a good grasp of all the required work processes.
Participants in learnership programmes gain knowledge and skills that are immediately applied in the workplace and lead to higher output standards and improved productivity, which is an immediate tangible benefit for the sponsor company.

For participants in learnership programmes, their job prospects are greatly enhanced by having practical experience along with theoretical knowledge.

Occupation-specific training that is backed by a nationally-recognised qualification provides job seekers with a boost of confidence, as well as a way to achieve a formal qualification when tertiary education might be inaccessible due to tuition costs. Most learnerships provide an allowance/stipend for the duration of the programme, which assists significantly with costs such as transport and meals.

The fixed-term employment contract for the duration of the learnership often results in permanent employment upon completion if the learner has performed well, which is the ultimate solution to addressing youth unemployment.

Smart facilitation

The right training partner will have all the necessary accreditations, means and mechanisms to run learnership programmes from end to end. Partnering with a training provider that specialises in youth development is a clear-cut way to ensure that the full benefits of learnerships are achieved – both for the company and the individuals intended to benefit from such programmes.