The South African Learnership Scam

Five actions you need to take to ensure that your Training Provider is delivering value

It’s a known fact that the importance of Skills Development for company Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) scorecards has fueled a multi-billion Rand training industry that’s dominated by private companies. What’s less known is that while many of these organisations are implementing quality learnerships, there are an equal number that are pocketing millions yet delivering sub-standard learnerships that provide little value for their learners.   

This is according to Sean Sharp, Executive: Head of Sales for EduPower Skills Academy. He explains that learnerships hosted at the employer or the “sponsor” company’s premises are generally above reproach. The issue however comes in with hosted learnerships, where learners are spending the full 12-months of the learnership at the training provider. 

“A lot of learners who are hosted by private training companies are simply not getting the work experience that’s needed,” says Sean. “These training providers have thousands of graduates every year but due to the fact that learnerships are not policed, they are being awarded the qualification when in fact they are no better off than when they started,” he explains. 

To add insult to injury, these sub-standard learnerships are also cheating SARS, which continues to pay out billions in Section 12H and ETI tax rebates to companies for sponsoring learnerships. “Due to the actions of these opportunistic training providers, the sponsor companies, SARS and the South African taxpayer are all being robbed!” Sean says.

To address the quality of learnerships, Sean believes that the sponsoring companies have to become more closely involved. He says there are five red flags that will indicate your training provider is not delivering:

1. Price point

Learnerships are designed to provide the learner with both a theoretical and practical component, with 30% of the 12-month learnership spent in an academic environment and the remaining 70% used to implement those learnings in a workplace environment. To deliver this, training companies need classrooms and additional facilities for workplace experience as well as qualified facilitators, assessors and full-time coaches and mentors. All of this adds up so if your company is paying less than R30 000 per learner per year, it’s the first red flag that the correct measures are not in place.

2. Your learnership is less than 5 months

To meet the requirements for a learnership, the learner needs to complete a set number of notional hours at a rate of 10 hours per credit. As most learnerships are 120 to 150 credits, your learner has to complete a minimum of 1 200 hours of work experience – which is best achieved over the 12-month learnership if they are working a normal workday, five days a week. If your training company says your learnership can be completed in less time, that’s your next red flag.

3. Meet your learners

As the employer, you should be able to meet with your learners whenever you want as they should be on-site during working hours. If you arrive unexpectedly at the training site and you are given the runaround as none of your learners can be found, this is your third red flag.

4. Stipend is below minimum wage

All unemployed people selected for a learnership are paid a learner allowance – or a stipend – by the sponsoring company. While the precise amount may vary, a stipend is intended to cover living expenses such as housing, food and travel. If your training provider tells you that your stipend can be sub-minimum wage, this is your fourth red flag as it means that your learner is only working one or two days each week.

5. Absorption

B-BBEE has added a new dimension to learnerships for unemployed learners with the introduction of absorption which encourages sponsor companies to absorb the learners at the end of the 12 months. Employers that choose to outsource their learnerships for People with Disabilities or the unemployed are often unable to provide employment and these learners are therefore generally absorbed by the training company. If your training company will not absorb any of your learners, this is your fifth and final red flag. 

 “When training providers don’t deliver quality learnerships, it’s the learner that loses out. The whole thing about learnerships is that nobody is really accountable for ensuring that they’re implemented to provide maximum value for the learner. As long as this is the case, the responsibility falls on business, training providers and learners to apply the spirit of the legislation instead of looking for ways to get around the legal requirements and simply tick boxes,” Sean concludes.

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