Learnerships are key to developing People with Disabilities

Learnerships for People with Disabilities should go beyond B-BBEE points

November is Disability Awareness Month, the perfect time to shine the spotlight on the fact that while 7.5% of the South African population live with disabilities, only 1% of these individuals have jobs. However, South Africa is not unique in this. Worldwide, People with Disabilities (PWDs) are underrepresented in the workforce based on low expectations and preconceived notions about their capabilities. 

According to Sean Sharp, Executive Head of Sales at EduPower Skills Academy, this assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. “We are doing ourselves and these individuals a massive disservice, not to mention robbing them of their dignity. It’s about time that we stop looking at people’s disabilities and start focusing on their abilities.”

He believes the value that PWDs can bring to any organisation goes far beyond a B-BBEE scorecard, but they seldom have the opportunity to prove their potential due to the perceived problems and/or costs associated with hiring People with Disabilities. This is also partly due to the schooling system in South Africa as matriculants are generally far from work ready when they finish school – a fact that applies equally to both able-bodied and PWDs.

Sean says the best way to bridge the massive gap that exists for PWDs between school and work is by empowering them through learnerships. He has first-hand experience of the impact learnerships can have on PWDs as 90% of the learners at EduPower are people with disabilities.

“Learnership programmes provide PWDs with an accredited qualification and invaluable work experience in a specific occupation. These new skills and the resultant confidence boost they provide, coupled with a range of other soft skills, significantly improve their employability, allowing them to build careers and make a positive contribution at work and to society,” he explains.

More learnerships for PWDs

While there are no figures to back it up, Sean adds that it would appear that more companies are sponsoring learnerships for PWDs.  However, the reasons for this are not always in accordance with the intended outcome of creating employment opportunities. “Many organisations sponsor PWD learnerships for the wrong reasons – by making the spend, they are able to earn the four points available for PWD learnerships under Skills Development for their B-BBEE scorecards. Yes, this is an investment that provides skills and develops PWDs, but companies would be far better served seeing learnerships as talent pools for full-time employment that can make a positive impact on their businesses and achieve meaningful change.” 

Driving Transformation

Companies actively providing full-time employment for their PWD learners upon completion of their learnerships will help drive south Africa’s transformation agenda. Besides unlocking five bonus points on their B-BBEE scorecard for absorption into their organisation’s workforce, far more important is that it will provide opportunities for these individuals to reach their full potential. PWDs are not looking for handouts or pity, they are looking for meaningful work that will allow them to showcase their skills and abilities in the same way as able-bodied individuals. 

“Hiring your learners is a win-win for all stakeholders. Guaranteed, your PWD learners have had massive obstacles to overcome in their lives, which has given them a completely different perspective on dealing with problems,” says Sean. “In any business, this introduces innovative thinking that can help businesses be more creative and solutions-driven.”

Diversity through equal opportunities

Sean believes that when you focus on what a PWD learner can do for the company, you will find that the benefits of a diverse workforce vastly outweigh any costs. There may be some reasonable accommodation that is required but being mindful of this and planning from the start will help companies avoid incurring too much extra spend. Including PWDs and accommodating their disability-related needs are important moves for companies with regard to talent resourcing and compliance with legislation. 

Inclusion and diversity in the workplace are everyone’s responsibility! Companies need to be committed to providing the correct development for PWDs to eliminate the associated stigma and to ensure they are given equal opportunities. Only then will effective change be possible and will People with Disabilities truly be recognised for the enormous value they can add.

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