A Learnership Model of Workplace Training Excellence

The learnership model of workplace training has gained traction. But how should they be best managed to address unemployment and skills shortages?

Managing the Learnership Model of Workplace Training

The learnership model of workplace training has gained significant attention as a means to address the challenges of high unemployment rates and a critical skills shortage.

The learnership model was first introduced in South Africa by the Skills Development Act of 1998.

qualifications for learnership model

If you’re interested in learnership innovation strategies or face challenges in implementation, be sure to drop Leonie an email!

The Concept Behind the Learnership Model of Workplace Training

The term ‘learnership’ describes a particular model of workplace training for robust and meaningful skilling.

A learnership results in a nationally recognised qualification that relates to an occupation and consists of a structured learning component and practical work experience.

By providing a structured combination of theoretical learning and practical work experience, learnerships offer a promising pathway to equip individuals with the necessary competencies for employment and lifelong learning.

However, the successful implementation of learnerships hinges on effective management strategies that navigate the complexities of this innovative training approach.

Managing and Implementing the Learnership Model

In this blog post, we delve into the key lessons learned from a Southern African case study and explore essential considerations for optimizing the management of the learnership model.

 Since 1998, the ‘Learnership’ model of workplace training has been promoted in South Africa as a creative vehicle for addressing high unemployment rates and a serious skills shortage.

This is achieved through fast-tracking the acquisition of skills and increasing a learner’s chances of employment.

However, because learnerships are a recent innovation, the body of applied knowledge is small.

This article aims to contribute to what is known through examining a series of pilot projects, implemented between 1997 and 2001 in KwaZulu-Natal.

Theresa-Anne Davies & Fiona Farquharson

CREATE SA Learnerships for the Orange Economy

I was fortunate to have worked on the first learnerships piloted in Durban for the creative and cultural sectors (Orange Economy).

I developed an assessment model for Music Business learnerships at BAT Centre and Live Event Technical Production learnerships implemented at the Natal Playhouse.

CREATE SA became a unit within the MAPPP SETA, now no longer a SETA.

Courses for the Orange Economy can now be found across the CATHSSETA, MICTSETA and even Services SETA.

The Learnership Model of Workplace Training and its Effective Management: Lessons Learnt

learnership model workplace training

I thought it would be interesting to go back in time and read through some early learnership research.

Research Paper by Theresa-Anne Davies & Fiona Farquharson

The introduction of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) in South Africa led to decentralized learning, assessment practices, and quality assurance systems that have been critiqued for 19 years.

This study examines the quality assurance of occupational education in South Africa, focusing on three quality assurance cases.

Despite the uniqueness of each case, a recurring pattern emerged: while quality assurance is vital for accountability and consistency, the lack of a clear definition of quality hinders effective evaluation.

The study concludes that quality assurance should ensure consistency in educational output, advocating for standardized curriculum, centralized assessment, and associated quality assurance mechanisms.

One can say that attempts to achieve this centrality is underway with the activation of the QCTO.

However some SETAs and various other stakeholders have sabotaged the deadlines.

As a result, another two years have been allowed for SETA qualifications to continue.

The Learnership Model: A Pathway to Success

Learnerships represent a dynamic approach to workplace training and are different to traditional course-based methods.

They are designed to be demand-led, which means they respond to economic or societal needs for specific skills.

Learnerships therefore cater to a wide range of occupations and sectors.

Their responsiveness and objectives emphasize the practical application of skills in real-world contexts.

To ensure quality and relevance, learnerships in South Africa adhere to specific criteria.

For one, learnership qualifications now fall under the QCTO.

Learnerships are characterised by applied competence, integrated assessment, and the attainment of a nationally recognized qualification.

(On a personal note, we love learnerships and the energy they establish among learners.)

future workforce learnership implementation services 18.2 learnerships

Learnerships and Apprenticeships: Similar Yet Different

While learnerships are modeled on the apprenticeship tradition, they have distinct differences.

Unlike apprenticeships, which are limited to specific trades, learnerships are applicable to any occupation.

Additionally, learnerships must lead to a qualification registered by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) according to the National Qualifications Framework (NQF).

Two Main Benefits of Learnerships Compared to Apprenticeships

Learnerships in South Africa offer two main benefits compared to traditional apprenticeships:

1. Flexibility in the Learnership Model: 

Learnerships can be completed in a shorter time frame (6-12 months) compared to apprenticeships (typically 3 years).

This allows for quicker acquisition of skills and entry into the workforce.

2. Skill Focus in the Learnership Model: 

Learnerships provide a more focused skill set tailored to the demands of the modern labour market, particularly in technical fields.

This ensures that learners are equipped with the specific competencies needed for their chosen occupation.

What are the challenges faced in implementing the learnership model in South Africa?

Challenges associated with implementing the learnership model in South Africa:

1. Learnerships are a recent innovation: 

This implies a lack of established practices and knowledge, leading to a need for experimentation and adaptation.

2. Highly legislated context: 

The Skills Development Act of 1998 and Learnership Regulations of April 2001 create a complex regulatory environment that requires careful navigation.

3. Multiple stakeholder environments: 

Learnerships involve various stakeholders such as government bodies, employers, training providers, and communities, making coordination and alignment challenging.

4. Complex relationships between stakeholders: 

The interactions among stakeholders can be intricate, leading to potential conflicts or misunderstandings if not managed effectively.

5. Lack of role clarity: 

In the KwaZulu-Natal Pilot Projects, stakeholders sometimes experienced ambiguity regarding their roles and responsibilities, hindering smooth implementation.

6. Timely signing of contracts: 

Delays in signing contracts can disrupt the learnership process and create uncertainty for service providers.

7. Ongoing monitoring of delivery against contract: 

Ensuring that all parties adhere to contractual obligations requires consistent monitoring and evaluation.

8. Need for adequate monitoring systems: 

The Department of Labour needs robust systems to track learner progress, service provider performance, and overall project advancement.

9. Resource availability for the Learnership Model: 

Effective implementation depends on having sufficient resources, including trained staff and necessary infrastructure.

10. Defining learnerships and their fit in the labour market: 

There’s an ongoing debate about the scope and purpose of learnerships, particularly regarding their role in addressing unemployment and skills gaps.

11. Workplace definition and constitution of learnerships: 

The traditional notion of a “workplace” and how learnerships are structured might need rethinking to accommodate diverse labour market conditions and opportunities.

nqf level 8 learnership qualifications qcto

Key Lessons for an Effective Learnership Model

Several crucial lessons have emerged from the KwaZulu-Natal Pilot Projects, shedding light on the effective management of learnerships:

1. Stakeholder Engagement is Non-Negotiable:

Learnerships thrive on collaboration among multiple stakeholders.

It is vital to identify and involve key stakeholders from the outset, including government bodies, employers, training providers, and local communities.

Active engagement fosters a sense of ownership and shared responsibility for the learnership’s success.

2. Clarity in Roles and Responsibilities is Key:

Defining clear roles and accountabilities for all stakeholders is essential to avoid confusion and ensure smooth implementation.

This includes establishing effective communication channels and decision-making processes.

3. Learnership Contracts Must Be Managed Efficiently:

The timely signing of contracts and ongoing monitoring of delivery against contractual obligations are critical aspects of quality assurance in learnerships.

Regular “spot-checks” can help maintain adherence to agreements and identify areas for improvement.

4. Learner Monitoring is Essential in a Learnership Model:

Implementing robust monitoring systems is crucial for tracking learner progress, identifying challenges, and ensuring the overall effectiveness of the learnership programme.

This includes monitoring individual learners, service providers, and the general progress of the project.

The Lead Agency Learnership Model: A Blueprint for Success?

To address the complexities of managing learnerships with multiple service providers, the “lead agency” model offers a structured approach.

In this model, a training provider assumes the role of the lead agency, coordinating and overseeing various aspects of the learnership program.

The lead agency collaborates with employers to provide practical work experience and ensures the integration of theoretical and practical learning.

Key Stakeholders in the Lead Agency Learnership Model

The lead agency model involves four core stakeholder groups, each with distinct roles and responsibilities:

  • SETA-funded Learnership Coordinator: Responsible for learner and employer recruitment, as well as fostering cross-SETA relationships.
  • Lead Agency: Takes charge of project management, quality control, and materials development.
  • Training Institution: Coordinates the learning program, ensuring communication, standardization, record-keeping, and monitoring.
  • Employer “Hosts”: Provide workplace trainers, mentors, and the environment for practical work experience and assessment.

Unlocking the Potential of Learnerships

The learnership model holds immense potential for addressing skills gaps and fostering economic development.

The study shows how embracing effective management practices and adopting models like the lead agency approach, can optimize the impact of learnerships and contribute to a skilled workforce that drives South Africa’s growth and prosperity.

rpl and other policies for accreditation consultation

Contact Leonie for Learnership Model Innovation

The learnership model offers hope for the employed and unemployed seeking to enhance their skills and employability.

As education and economic development experts, we firmly believe that learnerships, when implemented correctly, can be transformative interventions.

The 7Sundays Learner Wellness Programme

7Sundays 18.1 and 18.2 Learnership Management Services


Theresa-Anne Davies & Fiona Farquharson (2004) The learnership model of workplace training and its effective management: lessons learnt from a Southern African case study, Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 56:2, 181-203, DOI: 10.1080/13636820400200253

Vorwerk, C. (2002a) Implementing Learnerships in the Workplace, Equity Skills Development Newsletter (e-zine), 3(2), pp. 2-4. Available at: www.equityskillsweb.co.za.


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