It’s Time for an Attitude Adjustment to Skills Development

Learnerships could be the answer to South Africa’s unemployment woes, but only with a shift in mindset. As the country with the highest .unemployment rate in the world, and youth unemployment, in particular, sitting at an astonishing 66.5%, South Africa is in desperate need of practical solutions to turn the tide on our failing economy. Addressing the flaws in the education system and investing in training and skills development are the obvious starting points in any workable strategy.

On the surface, a learnership programme is a brilliant opportunity; being paid to study while getting work experience is a bargain – and the employer gets to add an extra resource to their workforce. However in reality, if we are critical with our observation of the actual impact of the learnership, the learner receives an opportunity to wake up and go somewhere every day for the next 12 months under the façade that it is beneficial to them.

Yes, the learner will gain a qualification and another reference on their CV but in fact, most learners don’t receive adequate advice or mentorship in the workplace and have no idea what to do with their qualifications. Furthermore, in the current economy and the ever-growing unemployment rate, most learners feel that a stipend is better than nothing (even though it barely covers the living expenses of one person, let alone a family).

In addition, ongoing delays and inefficiencies within the SETA system result in the vast majority of learners being unable to seek employment elsewhere at the end of their learnership programmes, because they are waiting for their certificates to be issued, which can take a long time. So, the only option is being advanced onto yet another learnership with very little prospect of permanent employment.

If we are truly honest with ourselves, the sad reality is that we have all benefited from the desperation of unemployed youth. However, the issue lies not only with corporates, but it also goes back to the Government that established Skills Development legislation and policies without setting a standard as to how this should be executed; they have left the future of unemployed youth in the hands of corporates, who in turn have handed over the dirty work to training providers. We are stuck in a vicious cycle.

For us to be part of the solution and raise the bar, Government needs to revisit these policies and enter into a collaboration between SETAs and training providers, so that we can hold corporates accountable. It’s time that we all realised we are not marketing cheap labour; we are trying to eradicate a critical problem and bring about real transformation in our society.

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