What is a learnership?
A learnership is a type of learning programme that combines a structured learning component delivered by a training institution with practical work experience that is acquired while being employed in a company, government department or small business. Learners get a qualification and benefit from theoretical and practical training, as well as real life work experience that enhances employability and improves the chances of entrepreneurial success.
Key features of a learnership
A learnership is a work-based learning programme that leads to a nationally recognised qualification that is directly related to an occupation. Learners in learnerships have to attend classes at a college or other training institution to complete the classroom-based learning that covers knowledge/theory and practical skills and also complete specific tasks to gain experience in a workplace. The three main parties – the learner, training institution and employer – sign a formal Agreement that governs the implementation of the learnership and explains the roles and responsibilities of each partner. The signed Agreement is registered with the relevant Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA). This Agreement covers the duration of the learnership, which is generally a year or 18 months.
Learnerships are offered in a wide range of occupations, e.g. in agriculture, banking, construction, engineering, finance, food manufacturing, health services, insurance, IT technology, manufacturing, security, tourism, and wholesale & retail. Learnerships are designed to promote the transfer of learning to the workplace. This means that learners must be actively involved in learning in the workplace, where they should be given the opportunity to apply the concepts they have learnt. Learners move between the training provider and the workplace during the learnership to assist them to apply what they learn in the real world.
Learnerships are generally developed by the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) and registered by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). There are 21 SETAs that have responsibilities in relation to education and training in the sectors of the economy as indicated in the table of SETAs.
What are the benefits of doing a learnership?
In 2015 there were about 30 000 learnerships available to learners in South Africa, indicating that there is a strong emphasis on learnerships as an instrument for addressing South Africa’s skills deficit.
Some of the benefits of learnerships for learners are described below.
- The work experience gained during the learnership improves the chances of getting employment as employers are reluctant to employ people who have no work experience. There is a high placement rate for learners who completed learnerships.
- Learners acquire the theoretical basis relevant to the occupation as well as the ability to apply their learning in an actual work situation, while most academic programmes don’t provide opportunities to develop practical skills.
- Learnerships give learners an opportunity to obtain a registered qualification that is nationally recognised and in some instances is portable in the industry, across sectors and internationally.
- Learnerships give learners an opportunity to develop high levels of competence that will enhance their marketability.
- Learners don’t pay anything to participate in a learnership and receive an allowance to cover the costs of transport, meals, etc. for attending the training and work experience sessions.
- The experience gained of the world of work improves learners’ chances of succeeding in self-employment in a small business.
- Learnerships improve the chances of career progression for employed learners.
How long does it take to complete a learnership?
The time it takes to complete a learnership depends on the outcomes that must be achieved by learners in order to meet all the requirements to be awarded the qualification at the end of the learnership. Most learnerships are completed within a year or 18 months, although some can take two or more years to complete. The number of credits of the qualification linked to the learnership will indicate the duration. As a general guideline, qualifications with approximately 120 and 150 credits can normally be completed within one year, and those above 200 credits over two years.
It is possible for learners to complete a learnership in a shorter time through Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). This is a process through which learners will be able to get formal recognition for parts of the programme that they have already completed through previous learning and/or work-based experience. For example, you may have worked after school in a friend’s catering business, so you would be able to get formal recognition for the knowledge and work experience you acquired in catering when you enter a learnership in that field. (More information on RPL is provided in the section on TECHNICAL AND VOCATIONAL EDUCATION AND TRAINING on the website.)
Who can apply to do a learnership and what are the entry requirements?
Learnerships are available for unemployed and employed youth.
- Unemployed learners: Young people who are just leaving school, college or other training institutions after completing some formal education, and people who have been unemployed for some time can enter learnerships (these are referred to as 18(2) learners). However, they can only be enrolled in a learnership if there is an employer that is prepared to employ them for the duration of the learnership so that they can complete the required practical, work-based activities of the learnership in a workplace. The employer and learner will then sign an employment contract that will cover the period of the learnership.
- Employed learners: Young people who are already employed can apply for learnerships if they want to study further (these are referred to as 18(1) learners). They will need their employers’ approval to enter learnerships that are offered in the organisation.
People entering a learnership must be at least 16 years old and younger than 35 years. The Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) especially encourage women and people with disabilities to enter learnerships. In addition, learners will have to meet the entry requirements for the specific learnerships for which they are applying. For example, you will not be able to enter a learnership in an engineering field if you have not completed some study in maths and science at school or thereafter, and some learnerships may set physical requirements relating to eye-sight and mobility, etc.
The 18(2) learners will also have to meet any criteria that have been set by the employer contracting them for the learnership. For example, the employer may only accept female learners in order to meet gender targets in the organisation.
It is important to note that it is quite normal for learners who have already passed their Matric on NQF Level 4 to do a learnership on a lower NQF level. For example, a learner might be interested in mechanical engineering, but didn’t do any engineering-related subjects at school. Then it would be necessary to start on a mechanical engineering learnership below Level 4 to build the basis needed for further study in this field. It is also possible for learners to do a Level 4 learnership and then continue with the Level 5 learnership in the same or a related occupation.
Which qualifications can be achieved through learnerships?
Learnerships are work-integrated learning programmes that are designed to enable learners to achieve a qualification in a specific occupation. Therefore, every learnership is linked to a specific qualification. Learners who have successfully completed a learnership will be awarded the qualification that is linked to the specific learnership. The titles of learnerships are generally the same or similar to the title of the qualification, e.g. the Plant Production learnership on NQF Level 2 is linked to the National Certificate: Plant Production on the same level.
Learnerships are offered on many levels of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF), although the majority are on Levels 1 to 5 (i.e. one level above Grade 12 which is on Level 4). Below are examples of qualifications that can be achieved through merSETA learnerships.
|Qualification title||NQF Level||Credits|
|National Certificate in Automotive Component Manufacturing||2||136|
|National Certificate in Vehicle Maintenance (Earthmoving Equipment)||3||139|
|National Certificate in Engineering Fabrication (Light) (Sheetmetal Worker)||4||153|
|National Certificate in Autotronics||4||135|
|National Certificate in Polymer Composite Fabrication||4||154|
|National Certificate in Thermoplastic Fabrication||4||137|
|National Certificate in Welding (All Positions: Plates)||4||169|
|National Certificate in Mechatronics||5||125|
|National Certificate: Plastics Manufacturing||5||129|
|National Certificate in Rubber Technologist Manufacturing||5||239|
|National Diploma in Air-conditioning, Refrigeration and Ventilation||5||240|
Each qualification specifies the minimum number of credits that must be achieved to be awarded the qualification (click to view information on credits).
You can contact the merSETA for more information if you are interested in the learnerships they have registered in fields related to:
- Metal and engineering,
- Auto manufacturing,
- Motor retail and component manufacturing,
- Tyre manufacturing, and
The merSETA head office is in Johannesburg (Tel: 010 219 3000, www.merseta.org.za) and it has offices across the country that serve all nine provinces.
There are also learnerships on higher levels, as shown in the examples from the Chemical Industries Education and Training Authority (CHIETA).
|Learnership title||Qualification title||Level|
|Technician: Analytical Chemistry||National Diploma: Analytical Chemistry||
|Technician: Electrical Engineering||National Diploma: Engineering: Electrical||
|Technologist: Electrical Engineering||Bachelor of Technology: Engineering: Electrical||
|Master of Technology: Pharmaceutical Sciences||Master of Technology: Pharmaceutical Sciences||
|Research Technologist: Chemical Engineering||Master of Technology: Engineering: Chemical||
Where can I find a learnership?
The key to finding a learnership is finding an employer that is willing to take in learners, and this could be a private company, government department, parastatal (e.g. Transnet), Non-Profit Organisation (NPO) or other organisation. The success in finding a learnership depends on your initiative, determination and perseverance. Learnerships generally start at the beginning of the year, so it is important to find a learnership in time for you to enrol.
How to find a learnership if you are employed
If you are employed, you simply need to respond to in-house invitations or to inform relevant persons in the organisation (usually in the Human Resources or Training divisions) that you wish to apply for a learnership. They will indicate which learnerships are offered in the organisation, and which are relevant to your position or fall within your career path. You could use the guidelines below for unemployed learners on how to choose the learnership that is the best for you.
How to find a learnership if you are an unemployed person
There are a few ways in which you can search for a learnership if you are currently unemployed.
- Search in newspapers or on the internet for companies (e.g. SASOL), government departments or other organisations that are offering learnership opportunities. Employers sometimes advertise in newspapers for unemployed learners, or they communicate the message in the city, town or community in which their premises are situated.
- Contact companies, departments or organisations in your own area directly to enquire if they are taking in learners.
- You could contact the nearest Labour Centre or provincial office of the Department of Labour as they may have information on learnerships offered in your area.
- Upload your information and Curriculum Vitae on the Employment Services for South Africa (ESSA) database on the Department of Labour’s online website from where employers could recruit learners: https://essa.labour.gov.za/EssaOnline/WebBeans/
- Contact your local TVET college or other training institutions to find out if they are involved in any learnerships. Click here for a list of public TVET colleges, although they may not all offer the learnership you are interested in.
- You could also contact the local office of the SETA for information on employers that are taking in learners. Click here for a list of SETAs and their contact details.
How do I choose the learnership that is the best for me if I am currently unemployed?
There are a number of issues that you need to consider when selecting a learnership.
- Start by clarifying the field of work that you are interested in, e.g. agriculture, catering, construction, engineering, finance, manufacturing, mining, sales, transport, etc. This will help you to find learnerships that are offered in the field (or fields) that you are interested in.
- Then you should find out which learnerships are offered in those fields. Details of the learnerships that are available are provided by the 21 Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs).
- Make sure that the learnership(s) that you consider are related to your career goals and areas in which you have some talent or skills. For example, you may have a particular interest in working in the catering field, or you are very good with fixing computers, so it would be good to study towards qualifications in these fields. You should try to find a learnership that matches your interest, talents and career goals.
- The lists of learnerships you find on the SETA websites or on the internet will indicate the focus of the learnership (e.g. Local Government Finance and Administration, Mechanical Engineering, Office Administration, Plastics Manufacturing, or Vehicle Maintenance. You will also find the title of the qualification that the learnership leads to (e.g. National Certificate: Business Accounting) that will indicate the NQF Level, the number of credits and the registration number of the qualification.
- We recommend that you find out more about the qualification to ensure that it addresses your need. You can do this by searching for the qualification on the website of the South African Qualifications Authority (saqa.org.za) under ‘registered qualifications’.
- It is important to determine the entry requirements for the learnership. These are generally similar to the entry requirements for the qualification (e.g. Grade 12), but could include additional entry requirements related to the work context. For example, a learnership for fire fighters is likely to have job-specific entry requirements due to the highly demanding nature of that occupation.
- When you have selected the learnership, you must also consider practical and logistical realities such as whether the learnership is offered in your area. If possible, select a learnership that is offered close to your home or a place where you can live for the duration of the learnership.
- Then you need to find out if there is an employer who is willing to take you into the learnership.
How can I make sure that all the requirements have been met?
There are a number of things that you need to check to ensure that all the requirements have been met when you start the learnership. You might not have to check all these yourself, but should get confirmation from the training provider or the employer who will be involved in implementing the learnership.
- Make sure that the learnership is registered with the relevant SETA.
- Make sure that the qualification that the learnership leads to is registered by the South African Qualifications Authority on saqa.org.za.
- Make sure that you, the training provider and employer signed the formal Agreement and that you get a copy of the signed document.
- Make sure that the training provider is accredited, and that the accreditation covers the qualification that the learnership leads to.
- If you were unemployed before entering the learnership, make sure you have signed a short-term employment contract for the duration of the learnership with the employer where you will be doing the workplace component of the learnership.
How much does it cost and do learners receive money during learnerships?
Learners do not have to pay anything to participate in a learnership. Learners who were unemployed at the start of the learnership (i.e. 18(2) learners) receive a weekly learnership allowance (or ‘stipend’) for the duration of the learnership. The money is not a salary, but learners should understand that they are getting paid to learn. The allowance is intended to cover the costs of participating in the learnership, e.g. for travel, meals and other costs incurred due to attending the learnership. Without this allowance unemployed persons are unlikely to enter or complete learnerships as they don’t have money to cover these expenses. This is another reason why you should try to select a learnership that is offered in your own area to avoid any additional costs for travel and accommodation.
Learners who are employed by the organisation that is offering the learnership – i.e. 18(1) learners – do not receive the stipend as they receive their regular salaries.
The minimum amount of the allowance is set by Government in the Sectoral Determination No. 5: Learnerships and some allowances are set by Bargaining Councils. The amount is calculated as a percentage of the wage that someone employed in such a position would be paid. For example, learners on a learnership for accountants will receive a higher allowance than learners on a learnership for office administrators. Similarly, learners on an NQF Level 4 learnership in Electrical Engineering will receive a higher allowance than learners in a learnership in the same field on NQF Level 2.
The allowances differ across occupations, industries and learnerships. Therefore, the amount that learners will receive will be determined by the specific learnership. Examples of the weekly allowances paid by the Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services Sector Education and Training Authority (merSETA) in 2015 in terms of Bargaining Council agreements are:
- NQF Level 1 learnership in the motor industry: R 1 220.00, and
- NQF Level 4 learnership in the motor industry: R 1 860.00.
However, other learnerships could pay smaller learner allowances.
SETA warning against fraudulent learnership/apprenticeship recruitment processes
The Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services SETA (merSETA) issued a warning on 23 November 2015 against scams in relation to learnerships and apprenticeships. The scam is that unsuspecting learners looking for apprenticeship or learnership opportunities are asked to deposit money at a Shoprite or Spar supermarket as well as a bank in order to access training. The merSETA confirmed that a learner wishing to undergo merSETA-funded training does not need to pay to undertake their apprenticeship or learnership. Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs), the merSETA in this case, may fund the training and, in return, the employer pays wages or an allowance to the learner undergoing training. The merSETA member companies or merSETA-accredited training providers provide apprenticeship/learnership training. This matter was reported to the South Africa Police Service.
What are the responsibilities of parties involved in a learnership?
Main parties involved in the implementation of the learnership
Three parties sign the formal Agreement (also known as the Learnership Agreement) that specifies the requirements they must meet in implementing the learnership:
- The learner will be responsible for completing the programme, and can either be unemployed at the time of entering the learnership or already employed.
- A training provider will be responsible for teaching the knowledge and theory component of the learnership in a classroom situation, and could also be involved in practical skills training, e.g. in laboratories or workshops. This can be a public or private TVET college. The traditional universities that focus on academic programmes generally do not offer learnerships, although some universities of technology and other higher education institutions are involved in learnerships.
- An employer will be responsible for providing the learner with the opportunity to complete the prescribed practical workplace activities of the learnership in the organisation. The employer also has to sign an employment contract with learners who are unemployed at the time they enter the learnership (i.e. the 18(2) learners).
Rights and responsibilities of learners enrolled in learnerships
The rights and responsibilities of all three parties are stipulated in the Agreement that each learner signs with the employer and training provider before commencement of the learnership. The learner’s rights and duties are described below.
Learners have the right to:
- Receive an induction at the start of the learnership;
- Sign an employment contract with the employer that must adhere to all conditions of employment, e.g. in relation to hours of work and sick leave;
- Receive training that covers the knowledge and theory, and practical skills, and be given the opportunity to complete the workplace component of the learnership with an employer;
- Access the resources required to complete all the specified learning activities;
- Raise grievances in writing with the relevant SETA concerning any shortcomings in the training;
- Be assessed and have access to the assessment results of all the assignments completed during the learnership;
- Receive feedback on assignments and progress during the learnership;
- Receive the agreed learner’s allowance – in the case of 18(2) learners;
- Receive a written statement of results and the final certificate of achievement of the qualification if all the requirements of the qualification have been met; and
- Receive a certificate of service from the employer at the end of the learnership.
The learner’s duties include to:
- Be available for and participate in all learning and work experience required in the learnership;
- Attend all theoretical learning sessions with the training provider and undertake all learning conscientiously;
- Carry out all occupationally-related work for the employer required for the practical workplace experience activities specified in the learnership;
- Work for the employer as part of the learning process and comply with workplace policies and procedures;
- Comply with all legal requirements, e.g. the Occupational Health and Safety Act and Labour Relations Act; and
- Complete assignments, for example written tests, projects, practical tasks and demonstrations as required by the training provider and employer so that these can be assessed to determine if the learner has met all the outcomes required for the awarding of the qualification.
SETA role in the learnership
The Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) responsible for the particular learnership is also involved in the learnership through:
- Approving the implementation after ensuring that the employer and training provider meet the stipulated requirements;
- Funding the learnership; this includes providing funds for the employer to pay the learner allowances;
- Quality assuring the learning achievements, e.g. by ensuring that all the assessments are conducted as required; and
- Taking any remedial action if the learnership is not implemented in accordance with the Agreement and any other SETA requirements.
Can a learnership be terminated?
Yes, a learnership can be terminated under certain conditions, e.g. if an employer has fairly dismissed a learner for a reason related to the learner’s conduct or if one or more of the parties to the Agreement fail to adhere to it. In such a case, the SETA which registered the Agreement must be informed of the termination.
What support can I expect to receive during the learnership?
There is an induction at the start of the learnership during which learners are provided with the information they need, including:
- The terms and conditions of the formal Agreement;
- The employment contract for the duration of the learnership – in the case of 18(2) learners;
- The rights and duties of learners and other parties involved in the learnership;
- The various assessments learners will have to complete with the training provider and at the workplace;
- The requirements for successful completion of the learnership for the award of the qualification;
- Disciplinary procedures; and
- The payment of learnership allowances for 18(2) learners, and circumstances under which the allowances will be withheld.
During the formal training sessions with a training provider, students are supported by facilitators who guide them through the knowledge and theory of the learnership and, if applicable, assist them to develop the required practical skills. At the workplace, learners are generally allocated to a mentor or supervisor who supports them and looks after their needs during their time with the employer. The mentor/supervisor or experts in various work processes will also guide learners on how to complete the workplace activities of the learnership.
What can I expect at the end of the learnership and will it help me to find a job?
All learners who complete the learnership can expect the following:
- If you successfully completed all the assignments and met all the requirements of the qualification, the training provider will provide you with a statement of results. It will be an official certificate that will state the qualification and the area in which you developed knowledge and practical skills during the learnership.
- After external moderation of your assessments, you will receive a certificate from the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO) that indicates the qualification that you were awarded. Depending on the learnership, the certificate could be issued by the TVET college or other training provider.
- If you only completed some of the unit standards or components of the qualification (if it is a qualification that is not based on unit standards), you should obtain a statement confirming which unit standards (or components) you successfully completed.
If you were employed by the employer before entering the learnership, you will simply carry on working in accordance with your existing employment contract. The skills and work experience you acquired during the learnership might enable you to apply for a higher position, although the employer is not obliged to promote you after you complete the learnership.
If you were unemployed before entering the learnership (i.e. if you are an 18(2) learner), your contract with the employer will automatically end when the learnership ends, and the employer should provide you with a certificate of service for the period of the contract. The learnership does not guarantee a job with this or another employer.
What opportunities are there for unemployed learners after the learnership?
- If the employer is impressed by your work ethic and performance during the learnership, he/she may decide to employ you as an employee, but only if there is a position for you and if you meet other employment requirements.
- The employer could also agree to enrol you in another learnership, and then sign a new Agreement and employment contract with you for the new learnership.
- Even if your relationship with this employer ends, the qualification and work experience you gained place you in a better position to apply for jobs with other employers. You could use the labour centres of the Department of Labour, private employment agencies or organisations like the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA), to explore employment opportunities.
- You could also consider starting your own business as the skills and work experience you gained will enhance your chances of generating income through self-employment or establishing a co-operative
- You might also want to think about studying further by enrolling for the qualification on the next level in the same field as the learnership you completed. The qualification you got through the learnership could enable you to meet the entry requirements into a qualification offered by a university or other training institution.