June 18, 2024

The great learnership scam

3 min read

Learnerships are South Africa’s most powerful skills development mechanism, but they could be playing an even greater role in eradicating youth unemployment. Unfortunately, some dishonest learners are defrauding the system by enrolling for multiple learnerships at the same time.

Rajan Naidoo, managing director of EduPower Skills Academy, says this unscrupulous behaviour is not only unlawful, but the greater crime is that it’s robbing other young people who are serious about gaining formal occupational qualifications of learning opportunities.

“We have no idea how many people are involved, but we know for a fact that an increasing number of learners are negatively exploiting the gaps in the learnership system for financial gain. This is outright fraud – and if they are caught, there must be repercussions,” states Naidoo. “Sadly, the real victims of this crime are the youngsters who may never have the opportunity to enrol for a learnership because there are none available.”  

According to Naidoo, there are three ways that candidates are swindling the learnership system:

1. The most common reason people register for multiple learnerships is to illegally benefit from the compounded stipend. Unfortunately, many are successful in this conduct as the Setas (sector education and training authorities) work independently of each other and there is no single database that records all learnership registrations. Learners can, and are, exploiting this weakness. 

2. There has also been a trend toward funding people with disabilities (PWDs) for unemployed learnerships. As the community of PWDs is small relative to the general population, this has caused demand to outstrip the supply of candidates, leading to some unintended consequences. Some able-bodied learners find complicit partners in the medical industry and ‘forge’ medical certificates to present themselves as disabled. In addition, learners with a medically certified disability sometimes register for more than one learnership concurrently because of the demand for these candidates. 

3. Many learners register for a learnership, but do not attend classes or have work experience. Some training providers enable this type of behaviour by allowing and encouraging learners to be absent for most of the learnership. Even worse, they do not ensure the learners get appropriate work experience – and as learnerships have a monetary value for these training providers, all social value is usurped. 

The solution?

Naidoo believes that to optimise the positive impact of learnerships, all role players in the learnership value chain need to play their part.

“The Setas and the QCTO [Quality Council for Trades and Occupations] must work in a co-ordinated manner to ensure databases are synchronised to prevent learners from multiple concurrent registrations,” he says. “However, the main responsibility falls on the funder of the learnerships.”

Learnerships are financed primarily through corporate B-BBEE spend, Setas, other government departments and private NGOs, and Naidoo believes the sponsor’s role cannot be underestimated in ensuring the full and true social and economic value of a learnership. 

“More funders are becoming more sensitised to the real value of learnerships, which is the long-term employability of the beneficiaries. However, the onus is on funders to select the right training provider with a value system that is beyond reproach and that offers mentorship and life skills coaching to assist learners to make better choices.”

The best way, however, to eradicate multiple learnership registrations are fully hosted learnerships, a system that has been implemented at EduPower since its inception.

“To ensure our learners are work-ready when they graduate, we operate as a work environment. Learners come to ‘work’ five days a week and work a full day. We also implement regular labour law practices such as leave applications and sick leave to help them build the skills they need for a sustainable and successful career,” Naidoo adds.

Learnerships have been transforming lives for over 25 years, but to optimise the positive impact they can make, we need to ensure all partners in the value chain come together to remove corrupt behaviour and practices. 

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