How do we impact South Africa’s youth unemployment crisis?

Learnerships are the key to tackling youth unemployment and economic exclusion

On 21st February 2022, South Africa will be marking International World Day for Social Justice. A day that raises awareness, promotes social justice and recognises efforts being made to tackle issues such as poverty, exclusion, gender equality, human rights, and social protection. Sean Sharp, Executive Head of Sales at EduPower Skills Academy, believes that South Africans should spend the day contemplating one of our nation’s greatest social challenges, youth unemployment.

“With nearly eight out of every 10 young South Africans unable to find work, our youth is most vulnerable when it comes to poverty and social exclusion. They have neither the skills nor the work experience to progress in the labour market, and we should be asking how we can empower them to become economically active.”

The solution, says Sean, lies in B-BBEE and specifically Skills Development as a mechanism to create employability.

Learnerships are usually funded by companies as an important part of their Skills Development required spend and have the potential to add up to 25 points under this priority element. Work-based learning programmes i.e learnerships are directly related to an occupation or field of work. They consist of 30% theoretical training and 70% work experience, with the latter being a deliberate focus to teach the practical skills learners will need to succeed in the working world.

“B-BBEE funded learnerships sponsored by companies, are without a doubt, the best way to give our inexperienced, unemployed young people the means to become learners.  It provides them with the skills and work experience necessary to access the job market,” he states.

Developing Skills

Twenty-three-year-old Thabiso Mdlalose is a shining example of how powerful these 12-month learnerships can be. In just three months, he progressed from being a learner to a mentor coach and now, with his new skills and confidence, Thabiso is excited about his future.

Born and raised in Inanda, Kwa-Zulu Natal, Thabiso completed matric but studying further was not an option. He worked in numerous entry-level positions but did not settle. Frustrated, he looked for a new opportunity and stumbled across an advert for a learnership with EduPower. His application was successful, and he started his Business Administration NQF Level 4 qualification in August last year.

While he was blown away by the camaraderie of the theoretical, classroom component of the learnership, initially he found the work experience daunting.

“I was shocked when I learned that I was going to be calling people on the phone. But even though there were many challenges, I worked at it and with the support and mentorship we got from the coaches on the EduPower team, I was surprised to find that I actually started enjoying it,” Thabiso explains.

EduPower’s set-up is unique among local skills development training providers as it has a fully customised 500-seat contact centre that is used exclusively by the learners. The Academy sources live campaigns for its learners so that they gain real experience talking to real people. And as they are hosted under one roof for both the training and the work experience, their learners “work” a regular 5-day work week, eight hours a day.

Future Prospects

While he was progressing well, Thabiso’s world was completely shifted when a learner coach position became available and he landed the job.

“I was really stressed because working as a leader is something that I had never done before. I came in on my first day as a coach dressed in my hallmark two-piece suit and I haven’t looked back,” Thabiso explains.

Even though he is only half-way through his learnership, Thabiso says the skills he has already acquired have completely changed his future prospects.

“EduPower has given me the opportunity to learn entrepreneurial skills and put them into practice. I’ve always had ideas and dreams, but they’ve been in the back of my mind,” says Thabiso. “Now, I am running my own business and every Sunday, I am selling. If I hadn’t come to EduPower, I would never have learned this skill. It is my time to shine.”

Sean says watching Thabiso’s growth has been incredibly rewarding as it confirms that learnerships can unlock potential and opportunities. He believes that to address the economic futures of low skilled and under-educated youth, B-BBEE funded learnerships are the best vehicles to impart skills as they lead to employment and entrepreneurial opportunities.

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