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By Stefan Lauber

Staff members in every company feel that they are overworked and that they could use help from people who have been well trained and who know what they are doing. Did you know that you have the opportunity to train your staff, even if you have no additional funds? Since the learner’s salary can be counted as training expenditure, learnerships are one of the easiest ways to boost your training spend within your current budget. In that way, you can earn up to 20% of the total BB-BEE score and another 5 points if you hire the learners at the end of the learnership.

However, earning BB-BEE points at minimal cost is only one concern. How can employers be confident that learners add real value to their business? Common wisdom suggests that the performance of learners with no previous experience would lag behind that of experienced hires. The results contradict that assumption. We see time and again that learners trained by i-Fundi perform exceptionally well. One of the reasons is the quality of the training, and another reason is that learners are highly motivated; they are eager to prove themselves and are grateful for the opportunity to apply their new skills.

Being able to prove the value of learnerships is essential if learnerships are to become a pillar of a company’s talent management strategy. Human Resource practitioners need to speak the language of business, which is rands and cents. They need to show the Return of Investment of their initiative. Although everyone agrees with that, a few clients systematically measure their returns.

Aegis, a leading international outsourcer, compared the performance of recruits with experience against that of learners with no experience on an international project. The learners outperformed hires with previous experience within the first 30 days, and were retained for longer even though their salaries were lower. They were also less absent and more punctual, a fact I personally attribute to their eagerness to succeed. They knew they had been given a massive break and wanted to work hard to give something back.

Who should manage the implementation of a learnership programme? Someone who really enjoys developing people. Learners can sense whether a company has their interest at heart or not. They commit if they feel that you genuinely care about them.

Only a few companies are willing to deal with the administrative burden of having their training accredited. They would rather work through an external training provider. Companies have to make sure that a provider’s accreditation is current. Being able to obtain SETA certificates for the learners is obviously vital but often easier said than done. Not only must a provider be able to meet all the requirements of a SETA but it must also be able to drive the process to cut through red tape. Therefore, it is important for an employer to check references with previous clients and possibly even talk to the relevant SETA.

Having implemented over 10 000 learnerships, we have learned that you need strong project management skills. Before starting, both parties need to agree on roles and responsibilities, scope and the schedule for the project—all of which become part of a Service Level Agreement. Apart from that, your partner must be committed to walking the distance with you, and to resolving any issues as soon as they arise.

Providers must have the experience to design a programme in such a way that the schedule does not conflict with operational needs. Asking learners to complete large amounts of work outside the classroom is also doomed to fail as many learners leave home very early in the morning, returning late in the evening. Yet the programme still needs to meet the standards of SAQA. Being able to balance these conflicting needs requires a mature provider.

In order for you to claim your BB-BEE points and to take advantage of the available tax incentives, it is important to keep a record of all the necessary documentation. This in itself is not too difficult but requires attention to detail. Particularly important is to make sure that your company completes its yearly Workplace Skills Plan (WSP) and returns the Annual Training Report (ATR) to the relevant SETA. Without it, you can’t score any BB-BEE points for skills development.