Simulated Learnerships - True Transformation or Pure Compliance?
by Beth Cook

In recent years, hosted and simulated learnerships, in which learners are hosted at premises other than the lead employer or in a simulated work environment, have become prevalent and in some instances, even preferred among corporates. This is especially true with regards to learners with disabilities.

There are some instances in which an “offsite” learnership is a more viable option for corporates. Head count freeze, lack of space in the work environment and/or limited accessibility are often factors that force corporates to opt for a hosted learnership. In these situations the employer looks for alternative solutions that meet their immediate needs.

While a hosted learnership option is a solution that benefits all three parties ie the learner, the lead employer and the host employer and is still a solution that provides integration and real life working experience for the candidate, the same cannot necessarily be said for a simulated workplace solution. 

With an increasing number of corporates opting for simulated learnerships, it begs the question: Is true transformation and the desire for inclusivity still the driving force behind learnerships for people with disabilities or has it become more of a “get our points with minimum involvement” approach to Skills Development?

Unfortunately, for many companies in South Africa, the latter seems to be the case. As an increasing number of people with disabilities are kept segregated from the working world in “simulated working environments”, is true transformation and integration ever going to be reached? What was once seen as an exciting way for corporates to empower and embrace people with disabilities, Skills Development has clearly become a compliance-driven initiative for many organisations who are opting for minimal impact and maximum convenience.

Is this a sustainable approach?

Being an employee of any organisation does not only provide an individual with valuable skills and experience in a particular field, it also equips individuals with equally important soft skills. Emotional intelligence, negotiating skills, problem solving, adaptability, people management, etc. are all skills that learners gain in the workplace. Being in a simulated work environment, which is highly controlled and structured, does not provide learners with the opportunity to develop these critical skills. With no true workplace experience to add to their CV as the learnership comes to a close, are learners truly empowered in gaining future employment? Thus, hosting learners in a simulated work environment provides minimal benefits for learners and corporates. 

In addition, the companies funding the learnership are doing themselves an injustice. One of the most effective ways in which an inclusive and accepting environment can be created, is by integrating people with disabilities into the workplace. Thus, integrating learners with disabilities into the workplace is an invaluable step in the journey of transformation.

Often, learners become valued members of the organisation. With a year’s worth of experience, building relationships and adopting the company’s “way of doing things”, absorbing the learner as a permanent employee makes business sense. It also provides organisations with valuable bonus points on their B-BBEE Scorecard. However, the same cannot be said for learners who are being hosted in a simulated work environment.

To make a positive and meaningful impact on those who have been previously disadvantaged, one needs to embrace the true spirit of B-BBEE. When Skills Development initiatives are driven by passion and a determination to make a difference, only then will true transformation and inclusion be achievable.


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