Learnerships & Skills Programmes: A Better Option?

apprenticeship vs learnership

To degree or not to degree? Asked no one ever. Surely there’s no other way to study than university. Or is there..? Ever heard about learnerships?

“When I leave high school, I’m definitely going to go to University and get a degree, there’s no other way to do it if I want to succeed. I never want to be someone who just has a diploma, what good will that do me?”

These were some of the thoughts that swam around my mind once I finished high school. I didn’t ever think diplomas and learnerships could even compare to getting a degree. That’s if I wanted to make a success of my life (so I thought). Little did I know, this way of thinking would close many avenues instead of providing me with the best option I could get. Nevertheless, I went ahead and got a degree. Now, just having left university, I realise the fuss that surrounds ‘getting a degree’ is pretty unnecessary.

The pretentious commotion surrounding whether you have a degree or not is exactly that: pretentious commotion. Attempting to impress by affecting greater importance or merit than is actually possessed. Unless you are leaning towards a career that requires you to know the human body backwards or be able to recite 20 official South African laws, then I ask; how does having a degree make you better? I don’t intend to belittle universities, however, a degree is not the only way to go. If you have a job in mind that you are passionate about and the skills to do the job, what more do you need?

What is a Learnership?

According to  South African Qualifications Authority, a learnership is

“a work based learning programme that leads to an NQF (National Qualifications Framework) registered qualification. Learnerships are directly related to an occupation or field of work, for example, electrical engineering, hairdressing or project management.”

In other words, a learnership is like an internship with an added qualification. They allow you to work at a company and get started on your career. This is while simultaneously studying for and, eventually, receiving an educational qualification. As a learner, you will enter into a fixed term employment with a company whilst studying towards a qualification registered on the NQF, which is in line with the learnership. In order to graduate, a learner has to complete both practical training, under the guidance of a mentor, and a theoretical course, taught by an official educator. A learner would get the qualification needed to apply and join a company but also attain practical knowledge through the learnership. Learnerships only apply to those between the ages of 16 and 35.

A learnership is a form of vocational education, in other words it links to a specific occupation. A learner has to have already thought about the career they would like to follow so they can identify a learnership that will fulfill and support this career. Learners must take the responsibility to find a company they think will best suit their vocational needs and a learnership programme that lines up with that career. A good way to make sure you’re choosing the right vocation is to do a lot of research, including online searches, interviewing and speaking to people in that field of work. It would be best to job shadow them. Job shadowing allows one to see past the ‘glamour’ of a specific career and experience what it truly entails. How Long Will It Take and How is it Beneficial?

A learnership will take as long as the qualification that goes with it will take. For example, if the qualification takes one year to complete, then the learnership will simultaneously take a year. Throughout the course, learners will receive assignments and projects to complete. They will also have tests to write and be formally assessed. At the end of the learnership, the learner will receive an NQF-registered qualification. This qualification is recognised nationally and learners will receive a certificate stating their area of skill development. While having this certificate and the skills to go along with it, an individual is not guaranteed a job. Regardless of whether you went to a university, college, technicon, or did a learnership, individuals are never guaranteed a job. Again, the responsibility falls on you to apply for and enquire about job opportunities.

Learnership students do have the benefit of being in contact with the company they worked for during the period of their learnership. It is easier for them to approach this company or any other company with a good word and practical experience already backing them up. Other benefits of learnerships include having a fixed-term employment for the duration of your learnership, earning a learner allowance (dependent on the SETA, the type of learnership and the level of qualification) and an improved job performance due to practical, job-relevant skills.

Go Enterprise explains SETA;

“SETA, is an acronym for Sector Education and Training Authority. The members of a SETA include employers, trade unions, government departments and bargaining councils where relevant, from each industrial sector.”

What Do I Need?

The entry requirement for a learnership depends on the specific learnership being sought after. It is best to contact the organisation providing the learnership.

The minimum entry requirement is usually a National Senior Certificate – the matric certificate. This is also dependent on what you are interested in studying. If you would like to study in the field of IT, you may need to have taken Computers at high school. Fortunately, there are always bridging courses that would bring a learner up to speed on these subjects if necessary. Once accepted into a learnership, two legal documents will be needed to move forward. A Learnership Agreement and an Employment Contract.

The Learnership Agreement outlines the rights and responsibilities. This must be signed by all three parties involved; namely, you (the learner), the company/organisation employing you and the organisation providing the educational component of the learnership.

The Employment Contract deals with the agreement between you and the chosen company/organisation. It is a document you will sign with the employer, which is only valid for the duration of the learnership.

A learnership can be terminated in the event of the following circumstances:

  • the duration specified in the Learnership Agreement has expired
  • the learner is fairly dismissed due to the learner’s misconduct or incapacity as an employee
  • due to various reasons, the employer and employee have agreed to terminate the Learnership Agreement. The SETA that registered that Learnership Agreement must approve of this termination

In addition to learnerships, there is also the option of short courses. Short courses help those who:

  • want to study but have time constraints,
  • would like to obtain more skills in specific vocational areas
  • want to sharpen up their workplace skills.

These short courses can be taken as a three-day contact session or as six-months distance learning. Students will receive a Certificate of Competence at the end of these studies.

Bright Zulu is a professional fitness instructor at Virgin Active.  He took part in the gym’s one-year learnership program through eta College before starting to work for Virgin Active full time.  The course gave Bright practical insight into his career of choice.  He found that completing the course taught him how to engage with clients before he started working professionally as a fitness instructor.  Although the course is challenging, Bright believes in the value of completing a learnership,

“It’s a great opportunity to broaden your career.  You learn from a lot of people… and it offers jobs to people coming out of school.”

He explains that the course taught him a lot.  As a result, Bright knew what to expect from the profession and now feels confident in what he is doing.  He says that the people who do the course grow throughout the year.  They are able to work with different types of people on a daily basis and learn how to understand various capabilities.  Bright would encourage anyone to do a learnership program.  

“If you are going to do the course and you are passionate about it, just know that a year is very short.  Just hold on.  Ask questions.  Don’t give up.”

Tony Robbins, an American businessman, author and philanthropist said;

“Knowledge is not power…its potential power. Execution will trump knowledge any day.”

What Robbins means by this is that reading something in a book and being able to memorise it, doesn’t mean we necessarily know how to do that thing. Only by doing it, do we learn. Otherwise the things we have learnt just become pages of information locked in our head, and that won’t do much for us.

EduConnect 2Cents

The emphasis of a learnership is on attaining skills. The process of combining practical work and theory is one that would set you apart from the rest. There is more to a qualification than getting a degree. A learnership is a cool way of building skill while gaining experience. This is the program that gives getting-a-degree a run for its money.

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