It is common knowledge that South Africa has a huge and growing problem with its critical skills shortages in most sectors of the economy. We do not have a workforce with the requisite skills to make a difference in our local economy so what chance do we have of competing in the global marketplace?
The College of Production Technology (CPT) has, for many years, operated within this skills shortage environment, particularly in the manufacturing sector. Our market focus has predominately been with employed people within this sector as we have always felt that they have had few opportunities to increase their skills levels and thus make a real contribution to their organisations’ effectiveness and efficiency. Our focus here has been towards what I think, as CEO, the most important tool at our disposal – Learnerships.
Learnerships, as many of you know, combines theoretical learning with the practical application of that theoretical learning, in other words, implementing the learned skills where it matters the most, in the workplace. Learnerships, to my mind, are the best example of outcomes based education and training that we have ever had. It helps to fast track workplace experienced employees with the theoretical knowledge that helps them understand how they can make that difference in the workplace and what their contribution to their organisation and the economy at large actually means. This is, to me, the best example of Work Integrated Learning (WIL) that you can find. Much has been written and researched about WIL and its advantages but this has largely been aimed at students, college or university, who have little or no exposure to the world of work and need that experience to align with their learned skills and thus make them employable. This is heavily dependent on our organisations opening their doors to allow these learners to gain the practical experience they require in order for them to graduate; sadly it is my contention that few organisations are likely to offer this opportunity. They are too busy trying to survive in a harsh economic climate to want to take on any additional responsibilities that have no immediate impact on their bottom line and may even be visualised as taking their “eye off the ball”. It is therefore understandable that students can quickly become demotivated when they cannot find an organisation that is willing to help them. I believe that in order to make this work, incentives need to be offered, incentives that will revitalise an organisation’s commitment to this scheme. This may not always have to be financial but I have yet to find an organisation that will not respond to financial rewards!
In our College we practice what we can term “reverse WIL” in that our learners already have the practical skills – they perform them every day in their workplace. What they lack is the theoretical knowledge. And this is the huge impact that learnerships have.
Learnerships are based on the accumulation of credits obtained from unit standards. Unit standards are written by a team of acknowledged experts in a particular field – in our case manufacturing – and are based on workplace requirements. In other words they have been written with the manufacturing environment in mind. And not just any manufacturing environment either. They can be specific to a particular production process or they can be contextualised to meet the requirements of a process.
CPT has been involved in the design and development of several learnerships over the past decade, particularly in the field of production and operations. We have paid particular attention to the Production Technology learnerships which were developed with many elective unit standards to choose from so as to contextualise the learning. For example, these learnerships have been used in enterprises as diverse as steel tube making, warehousing, electrical appliance and cable manufacturing, automobile component and assembly, – even cosmetics!
Of course there are other learnerships that are just as specific to workplace functions, for example Supervision, Logistics and Supply Chain, Engineering and many more. The benefits to an organisation and their employees of this ”reverse WIL” are many. Employers get motivated, educated workers who can make serious contributions through better understanding of their role in the business. Managers can identify employees for further training and advancement within the business instead of having to recruit. Employees on the other hand feel that they are an important part of the business and are not just “numbers”. They see career paths opening up for them and can take advantage of these opportunities. Each see that the learnership programme is a shared responsibility because it has a shared ownership.
Another serious advantage is that with most learnerships there is a progression from one level to the next higher level; each level building on the learned skills from the previous one. Each level carries its own qualification and thus the learner is able to progress to a level that possibly opens up even more opportunities for advancement.
Learnerships therefore can play a major role in combating our critical skills shortages in a way that is far more practical than most educational paths and can lead to increasing the employability and advancement of the learner in a proven, effective manner.

Andy Greenwood
CEO
andy@cpt.co.za, www.cpt.co.za, 082 966 1853
12/03/2014

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