Learnerships that unlock unlimited potential

Could one young woman’s inspirational learnership journey galvanise a generation?

On 8 March every year, women’s groups around the world mark International Women’s Day, a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

South Africa has made significant progress towards achieving gender equality but there are still many disparities in our society that desperately need to be addressed. Two of the main challenges are the high unemployment rates among women (which are higher than those of men) as well as educational inequality. But according to Sean Sharp, the Executive Head of EduPower Skills Academy, there are success stories in which ordinary women have overcome these challenges and these need to be acknowledged and shared. 

“It takes a special kind of determination for young women to rise above and succeed despite their circumstances,” says Sean. “There is no better way to celebrate International Women’s Day than by applauding these courageous ladies. By sharing their stories, they will become role models for other young women so they too can rise.”

Meet Fathima

By her own admission, 30-year-old Fathima Smith wasted a few years of her adult life. After school, like many South African matriculants, there was no money for Fathima to study further. Thus, she entered the world of work and after a couple of jobs ended up in a call centre, working in customer care.

“I wasn’t really happy so I thought if I applied for a learnership, it would give me an opportunity to study whilst working at the same time,” Fathima explains. “That was how I ended up at EduPower.”

Learnerships are work-based learning programmes that are directly related to an occupation or field of work. Made up of 30% theoretical training and 70% work experience, they are perfect for our youth to gain the practical skills and experience that is needed to augment their employability. Learnerships are usually funded by companies as an important part of their Skills Development spend for B-BBEE so this means that in contrast to other qualifications, learnerships offer a stipend so that candidates “earn while they learn”.

“At first I thought that the learnership was a bad idea because I didn’t think I was going to get any education or experience.  But after only two weeks, I found myself enjoying my classes and little by little, I started picturing myself not only getting this qualification but much, much more,” says Fathima.

Enrolled for a 12-month NQF Level 4 Business Administration National Certificate, Fathima explains that the learnership has broadened her perspective and changed her life. It has given her a glimpse of a future that she never dreamed possible.

“The classroom work has given me an understanding of what goes on in a business environment and I want to learn more. I’m getting the basics at the moment but after the learnership, I want to enroll for a B.Comm and maybe even go on to do an MBA.”

Life Goals

For now though, she is focused on her learnership and the possibility of university in 2023.  Her end goal is to eventually not have to work for a company but to start her own business. “In South Africa, there are very few job opportunities. With a business of your own, you don’t have to rely on someone else for an income. You make your own opportunities and you get to employ other people and make their lives better too,” she adds.

The potential that the learnership has unlocked within Fathima is an inspiration for all young women in South Africa. Had she not been awarded a learnership, she would possibly still have built a respectable career for herself because of her determination to succeed, but without acquiring the skills she is now learning.  The lack of which, would have, in all likelihood offered her far less opportunities to achieve her full potential in the workplace. Through the learnership, Fathima has changed her destiny.

“I have wasted three years in which I could have been studying but I am starting to see things differently now and that has also changed my goals in life,” she concludes. “For the first time, I know where I want to go and what I want to do.”

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