There has been much hype recently surrounding the development and registration of learnerships in South Africa. Andy Greenwood CEO of the College for Production Technology probes the issue and shows how this approach addresses South Africa’s urgent need for skills development and quality of learning.

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Learnership is an agreed route to a qualification and can cover any discipline and any occupation, going well beyond technical training and historic trades. A Learnership is therefore not equal to a qualification but rather how to get to there. It is structured around two important criteria: experiential learning and academic learning that must be integrated and lead to a nationally recognized qualification. The learner spends some time learning theoretical issues and some time gaining practical skills in the workplace.

How Learnerships started
The development and implementation of Learnerships is an initiative of the Department of Labour promoted by the National Skills Development Strategy (NSDS), and created to satisfy the requirements of the labour market. The intention is to remedy the skills shortage in South Africa as defined by industry, training providers and learners themselves. The Department’s objectives are to improve low skills and employment levels, develop a viable and effective SMME (Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises) sector, ensure equality of opportunity, reduce poverty and enhance socio-economic development.

Definition of Learnership
A Learnership is a structured learning process that integrates education and training through a work-based route, and is governed by an agreement between the learner, the employer and the training provider.

Benefits to employers
The benefits that Learnerships bring to employers are abundant, and include:
 the facilitation of skills development within the workforce
 the provision of financial benefits in the form of pay incentives and skills development grants
 the provision of a pool of skilled workers to draw from
 increased productivity and performance
 increased market share opportunities due to a competitive and skilled workforce
 greater contributions to the success of the company from a more participative workforce
 a more motivated workforce leading to fewer labour disruptions, and
 a greater contribution to the economic growth and development of the country.

The building blocks of Learnerships
Learnerships are identified, designed, developed and implemented through a participative process, giving each stakeholder – learners, employers and employee representatives – equal representation.

In designing each Learnership, careful consideration is given so that it meets the requirements of the labour market and ensures the proper integration of experiential and academic learning. This includes issues such as:
• Appropriate assessment to reflect the measurement of applied competence, which tells if the learner is competent or not when measured against the implied standard;
• conforming of the qualification to SAQA’s requirements;
• the extent to which the Learnership will create employment opportunities.

Which brings me to the composition of the qualification and the components that govern it. There are three main components:

 FUNDAMENTAL – which is about achieving the competence required to undertake the qualification and provides the foundation for further learning. In other words literacy, numeracy and life skills to an agreed level of competency
 CORE – which competencies better equip the learner for the occupation? This should also include issues such as health and safety, entrepreneurship and so forth. The majority of the qualification must be located here as it contextualises the qualification, and
 ELECTIVE – this ensures specific standards for specific occupations. In other words it affords the Learnership the opportunity to become highly specialised around a specific occupation.

The all-important aspect of the qualification is that it is made up of what are known as UNIT STANDARDS. Each unit standard must fulfill a part of the skills required for a Learnership and carries a certain number of CREDITS towards the qualification, which must consist of at least 120 credits (1 credit equates to 10 notional hours of learning; 120 credits approximately equates to an academic year).

The unit standards, chosen from those already written and registered or newly developed, must encompass occupational outcomes, relevant literacy and numeric outcomes and academic outcomes that include options from – for example – the economic sector, industry specific skills and knowledge, life skills and entrepreneurial skills. The unit standards and their credits are registered with the Department of Labour and help to serve as proof of competence. The learner himself builds a portfolio of evidence as he continues with his Learnership, until he reaches the requisite number of credits.

Credits can also be attained through the recognition of prior learning (RPL) that is a process of assessment that formally recognises a learner’s competence – regardless of how the learning took place – by assessing the learner to determine her/his current skills level. This learning would normally have taken place outside of the formal teaching process.

Remember, the qualification has to be registered on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). It’s objectives are to:

 create a national framework of learning achievements
 facilitate access to mobility and progression of learning within education, training and career pathing
 enhance the quality of education and training
 accelerate the redress of past discrimination
 contribute to the full personal development of each learner, and
 participate in the social and economic development of the nation

All Learnerships, their qualifications and unit standards are registered by the Department of Labour on their National Learners Registration Database (NLRD). According to the Department of Labour this is the first comprehensive information system in the world that links qualifications and unit standards with training providers, learners and achievements. It has been developed to provide industry with:

 an efficient, effective, equitable labour market
 access to quality learning to build skills
 a supply of skilled people
 clear labour market information, and
 a fair assessment and recognition of skills

Company incentives
By now you will have a reasonable understanding of what Learnerships are and how they work. You may also be aware that there are financial incentives for your organization to utilize the Learnership programmes. Let’s discuss these in a little more detail.

In addition to claiming Learnership grants through your SETA, you can also claim a tax incentive when you register a Learnership agreement with your SETA (check with your SETA as to what additional incentives they offer – each SETA differs). Remember, only Learnership agreements that are formally registered with your SETA will qualify. The South African Revenue Service (SARS) will check with your SETA before approving the claim.

Details of the tax incentive are contained in Government Gazette No. 23709 that was published on 5th August 2002. The entitlement derives from the Taxation Laws Amendment Act No. 30 of 2002. The amendment is however only applicable to Learnership agreements entered into or completed on or after 1st October 2001. You can visit SARS website for a full copy: www.sars.gov.za (select first legislation, then Acts, then Act No. 30 of 2002).

Basically you have two opportunities to claim; one at the beginning of the Learnership and one at the successful conclusion of the Learnership.

At the beginning of the Learnership:

1. Once you have entered into a Learnership agreement with a learner and you have registered the agreement with your SETA, you may deduct 70% of the annual wage paid to that learner up to a maximum of R17 500.00 during the relevant year of assessment.
2. Once you have entered into a Learnership agreement with your SETA, you may deduct 100% of the Learnership allowance paid to that learner up to a maximum of R25 000.00 during the relevant year of assessment.

On completion of the Learnership:

You can claim again! Your claim can amount to 100% of the annual wage paid to a learner up to a maximum of R25 000.00 during the relevant year of assessment.

It is also useful to remember that while the apprenticeship system remains in place, the same claims can be made for apprenticeships.

A deduction for the Learnership allowance can be claimed in respect of any year of assessment during which a Learnership was entered into or completed – as long as it was on or after 1 October 2001.

To claim the tax exemption employers must provide SARS with the following information:

 the name of the SETA with which the Learnership is registered
 the title and code of the Learnership allocated and issued by the Department of Labour
 the full names and ID number of the learner
 proof that the employer has complied with all the requirements of the Skills Development Levies Act, 1999.

Where an employer has a number of Learnership agreements it is not necessary to complete a form for each one; it is sufficient to compile a schedule for all the registered Learnerships, provided that all the information requested by SARS is included.

The Learnership route is by far the most exciting concept to hit South African industry in the last decade. It offers vast opportunities to both employer and employee in terms of our chronic skills shortage. History will record whether or not we seized these opportunities.

About the Author

Andy Greenwood has had a distinguished career in production management and industrial engineering and is currently the Chief Executive of the College of Production Technology in Johannesburg. The College offers training and development in the fields of production, quality and supply chain management from NQF levels 2-5
Contact Andy on 0860 278 278 or 082 966 1853

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