Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist

Are learnerships the answer to SA’s youth unemployment crisis?

Stats SA’s latest employment figures suggest more than four out of every 10 young South Africans are currently jobless.

Billions are spent ever year on training and skills programmes for South Africa’s youth. The challenge is that while tens of thousands of youth learn new skills, they do not necessarily have a clear path into actual jobs.

“What we need is a more targeted approach. For a growing number of institutions and businesses, the answer appears to lie in youth learnership programmes that lead to direct employment. The World Bank and the International Labour Organisation certainly think so, saying learnerships can have long-term positive effects on skills development, entrepreneurship and economic development,” Shobana Maikoo, head of TransUnion’s Global Capability Centre (GCC) in Africa, says.

“Learnerships are a key tool in South Africa’s ongoing struggle to get young people employed. The GCC’s own experience highlights the effectiveness of this approach. Since being founded in 2021, it employed 60% of its 100+ learners full time after their 12-month learnerships.”

She says businesses must be more precise in their upskilling efforts and focus on specific skills that are sought after in the local market. “In other words, skills that will land these learners actual jobs. The beauty of learnerships is that they effectively provide on-the-job training for the roles the youth might transition into.”

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Learnerships can combat unemployment

The transformative effects of a learnership cannot be understated. Just ask Ntombikayise Skosana (25) from Tsakane, who matriculated in 2014 and was then unemployed for seven years. With no experience, she could not get a job. With no job, she could not get experience.

It is a familiar catch-22 that millions of young people know all too well. Skosana started her learnership at the GCC Africa in November 2021 and today she is a management information systems analyst, looking to build on her qualifications and develop a meaningful career.

“Our learnership programme has been designed to cater for young individuals with limited work experience or qualifications. Over the course of 12 months, they get international work experience and practical skills by working alongside experienced professionals and being involved in real projects,” says Maikoo.

Another GCC learner, mother of one, Mbali Ndimande (28), grew up in Orange Farm in the south of Johannesburg. Despite graduating from the University of Johannesburg, she found herself unemployed for years and was about to give up hope of finding stable employment.

She joined TransUnion’s GCC Africa learnership programme in November 2022 and today works full-time in the client operations department, supporting TransUnion’s United States market.

However, it is not just the learners themselves who benefit, Maikoo says. “Employers benefit from financial support, including government grants, tax deductions and B-BBEE points, for providing learnership training. Learnership programmes also create a pipeline of skilled employees, who add value to the business and support its growth.”

She says many South African businesses spend significant amounts of money each year on skills and development programmes. “Our challenge to the broader business sector is to find ways to create more learnerships. In the process, they will have a far greater impact on their own businesses, while helping make a dent in our country’s unemployment crisis.”

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