“If a student is able to work, get experience and see what works, and has an idea to make it better, then they can, with the right support, potentially take this idea and entrepreneurially make it happen,” says Raath. He adds that, without a learnership, this might never happen.
Too Few Jobs
Michelle Randall, the principal of Enriching Leadership International, a global leadership consultancy, elaborates: “Even when too few jobs are available, outstanding candidates will stand out and have a better opportunity at finding scarce employment opportunities.” It is in this vein that, instead of focusing on learnerships alone to equip students with skills, policy makers and companies should look to other avenues to foster job creation.
An excellent point of departure would be to have entrepreneur programmes. These offer a great learning environment, especially for people who have skills and an idea.
A Necessity for Every Industry
As the demand for skills occurs across all sectors, learnerships should be universal. “Every industry needs to invest in young talent and would benefit from the experience and insights that younger graduates would bring to the table. Everyone learns from each other,” notes Raath.
Because job openings are scarce, it does not mean that the company has to do away with the learnerships programmes completely. Raath suggests that, before undertaking such a mission, there are two primary factors to note. The first is: understand what you are trying to accomplish. By offering learnership programmes, you are contributing to building the next generation of leaders. Hence exposure to as many facets of the business will make the experience meaningful. Secondly, give the learners enough time in one place to actually learn and make an impact. These done, about two-thirds into the programme have the learners make a presentation. What have they done? What have they learnt, and what is it that they still want to do?
As much as jobs may be scarce, companies that offer learnerships should not begin thinking that they are doing the learner a favour. A company stands to benefit tremendously from giving someone a meaningful learning opportunity. “Students may ask you to explain why you do things the way you do. They may suggest new ideas, bring in new perspectives and make you a better company,” says Raath.
Do Not Be Led into Misconceptions
It is also wrong to conduct a learnership programme only to ‘fit the bill’. In your selection process, take smart, innovative and creative people. Put them in new roles and let them apply their skills in the best way that they can. For example, a public relations firm should not only look for communications and business students – what about someone who has a medical background? Lastly, do not burden the learner with meaningless chores. Instead, make the experience meaningful.
Because learnership assessment takes place against occupational standards that have been agreed in advance by industry stakeholders, they are a way to get more skilled people – and skilled people make for better workers. They are more likely to do the correct thing the first time, to make fewer mistakes and to get the most out of their machines. Students who participate in a learnership tend to be more independent workers. They are more motivated because they know what they are doing is important to the overall business. Above all, these are employees who are less likely to leave their jobs.
A Win-Win Situation
Properly administered, employers stand to gain substantially from learnerships. The longterm benefits include the development of a skilled and productive workforce that is more likely to deliver an efficient service. For the students, do not go into a learnership thinking that, at the end, a full-time job is waiting for you. If it happens, then that’s great. If not, Raath says, then move on. “If you did a good job, you will get a few references. That is more than some people get.
“You might even have an idea of how you’d do something differently on your own. If that happens, ask the company if they’d consider hiring you for your new idea. You might have just found your first customer on the way to building your own business,” concludes Raath.
A Learnership Is Not a Job Offer
Russell Raath, Senior Engagement Leader at Kotter International, says that some companies cannot afford to hire more full-time staff, but can provide a rich learning ground for a student. That learning opportunity should not be ignored because the company cannot hire a student permanently.
The South African labour market has experienced a decline in levels of employment, as well as unequal distribution of income, and unequal access to education, training and employment opportunities. Raath notes that, since an internship is the way in which students can learn the essential business skills that will ultimately be needed in a corporate environment – or more importantly – to potentially become an entrepreneur, learnerships are vital.
SKILLS DEVELOPMENT | Leadership vs Jobs