June 18, 2024

Learnerships: bridging the gap between education and employment

3 min read

South Africa stands at a critical juncture in addressing its employment and skills challenges. The nation faces a paradox where soaring unemployment rates co-exist with persistent skills shortages, demanding immediate attention and multifaceted solutions. One wonders, though, how such a situation is even possible, given that our country currently has the highest unemployment rate in the world (32.9% in Q1 of 2023), particularly affecting our youth (62.1% in Q1 of 2023).

According to Rajan Naidoo, managing director of EduPower Skills Academy, the gap between job market demands and the skills held by potential employees widens each year, leaving numerous key vacancies unfilled. “While chronic unemployment remains a significant concern overall, certain industries and professions in particular suffer from a severe scarcity of qualified candidates.”

One of the most significant contributing causes to our country’s persistent skills shortages is the education system’s struggle to evolve rapidly enough to meet the increasing demand for specific competencies. “Like most of the world, South Africa has experienced rapid technological advancements and evolving industries, resulting in a surge in demand for specialised skills, particularly in sectors such as information technology, engineering, healthcare and finance. Unfortunately, the education and training systems have battled to keep abreast of these changes, exacerbating the challenges faced by employers who are grappling with a scarcity of qualified individuals,” he says.

Despite the challenges, there is hope on the horizon. Naidoo believes learnerships have the potential to transform the workforce landscape, providing a much-needed solution to the country’s skills deficit. “South Africa’s battle against unemployment and skills shortages requires a multifaceted approach, and the power of learnerships to bridge the gap between education and employment should not be underestimated.”

He outlines three reasons learnerships hold huge potential for addressing the skills gap:

Learnerships bridge theory and practice: These programmes offer a unique blend of theoretical knowledge and practical on-the-job training. Candidates gain hands-on experience in their chosen fields while acquiring the skills and competencies demanded by employers. By bridging the gap between education and employment, learnerships equip individuals with the necessary tools to thrive in their careers.

Industry-relevant training: Learnerships are designed in close collaboration with industry partners, ensuring the skills taught align with the job market’s needs. By tailoring the theoretical and practical training to specific industries and roles – even those requiring specialised skills – learnerships can produce job-ready candidates who already have the hands-on skills employers require.

Promoting employment opportunities: Learnerships provide participants with a direct pathway to employment. Companies often use learnerships to create a talent pipeline to future-proof their businesses with the skills that will be required. They absorb learnership graduates into permanent positions, leveraging the skills they have acquired during the programme. By offering tangible employment opportunities, learnerships help reduce the unemployment rate while simultaneously addressing the skills shortages.

“If we are to overcome these twin challenges, it is essential for government, businesses and educational institutions to come together and prioritise the further expansion of learnership programmes,” Naidoo asserts.

He also emphasises that by extending and implementing these programmes to equip more individuals with industry-specific skills and practical experience, economic empowerment will follow.

“Learnerships, with the necessary checks and balances in place that are rigorously monitored, hold the promise of an even more powerful and transformative impact in reducing joblessness among our young people than at present,” he says. “Through the collaborative efforts of all stakeholders, South Africa can harness the potential of its youth, create growth opportunities and pave the way for a more resilient and thriving workforce.”

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