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How Much Stipend Should We Pay Unemployed Learnership Candidates?

Organisations have raised interesting questions regarding how to structure financial benefits for unemployed youth on learnerships.

Companies who absorb unemployed youth are awarded BEE points, rebates and can have all stipends paid to learnership candidates refunded. The benefits exist in order to persuade companies to create opportunities for the unemployed.

We want to treat our learners right, what can we do?

Answer: Assume learners have nothing, and come from nothing.’

Ask these questions:

  1. What will it take for learners to fit into and be groomed for our organisational dress code? Work out the cost of a basic wardrobe, give half to them before the programme begins, the other half with their first month pay.
  2. How will they get to work before they have earned? Provide a transport subsidy at the beginning of the first month.
  3. Am I going to punish these candidates and exploit them for being poor or is my system designed to advance their career opportunities and effectively direct their labour within the organisation?
  4. Acknowledge learner strengths and potential to contribute to organisational success. Recruit right and you could find fresh vibrant talent, remember learners offer you  a value proposition beyond government perks.
  5. What can we do for them?
    • Give them a mentor who can advise about corporate culture without being bossy
    • Speak to them about grooming, hairstyles and accessories (if your organisation is conservative, let them know in advance and prepare your staff to be supportive and understanding of learners.)
    • Ask learners, distribute survey forms to collect anonymous feedback regarding learner needs and strengths.

Stipend Trauma

More learners write in describing dire living conditions as a result of painfully frugal stipends.

  1. If you’re the employer, you’re paying for labour. The stipend is not a charitable handout, it’s a business exchange.
  2. The SETA hasn’t paid you, now you don’t have money to pay the learners? Unacceptable. If you don’t have the resources to fulfill your legal obligations to these learners then you don’t belong in this space. 
  3. Why pay below R4k?! You can get it back!

Much is said about youth believing they ‘feel entitled.’ If you are of this belief, please hire me for a workshop and let’s remove limited thinking. You will never be able to tap into what youth offer organisations if this perception continues.

Youth require decent financial benefits in exchange for their labour and commitment to study. Bearing in mind the unemployed are usually also poor, stipends below R4k, particularly in an urban environment, are not pro-poor.

I assume an argument can be made for lower stipends in rural areas but I don’t like to make it now as I haven’t checked the data for this specific context.

What’s too low?

The nature of complaints from learners based in urban areas receiving R1.5k to 2.5k, suggests these rates are too low as learners are unable to meet basic needs.

Let’s cut through a policy framework and simply define learnership target youth as orphans. These youth require a stipend to assist with financial independence, we cannot pay a stipend based on the expectation that they have access to a support system.

Many youth must use their stipend to contribute to a household, they have no choice in this and refer to it as ‘Black Tax’. Employers must understand the difficulties they create for youth when making the assumption they can be paid low because they have a supportive family.

If learnerships are not for trust fund kids, why do we expect poor and vulnerable youth to support themselves on an income below R4k per month?

Now you may argue, ‘well then we can’t afford to do this!’

There are many ways to design an intervention to make it pro-poor without onerous cost impacts. If you don’t know how to figure these out, perhaps you’re ready to hire Leonie?! 🙂

People, pro-poor and profits can create a synergy.

When low pay can ‘sort of’ be justified

  1. The employer and training provider are the same
  2. The employer operates close to the residential area they recruit from so there’s no transport costs
  3. The learner negotiates less time
  4. The learner can afford the opportunity without compromising their well-being
  5. The employer is a small local business and can provide a great experience, but can’t pay much 
  6. The opportunity doesn’t require relocation

Hopefully these points give training providers and employers a few ideas about managing and establishing an effective policy for stipends.

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