Home Learnerships Chipping away at SA’s work crisis, one learner at a time

Chipping away at SA’s work crisis, one learner at a time

by Media Xpose

In 2021, South Africa’s unemployment rate reached a record-high, ranking South Africa’s number of unemployed the highest in the world. In his SONA 2022 address, President Cyril Ramaphosa stated that, despite “extraordinary” measures, “Government does not create jobs. Business creates jobs.”

Along with announcements including the extension of the Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant for another year with permanent replacement of the grant on the cards, he concluded his speech by saying: “Let us forge a new consensus to confront a new reality, a consensus that unites us behind our shared determination to reform our economy and rebuild our institutions. Let us get to work. Let us rebuild our country. And let us leave no one behind.” 

But what is the new reality? How many are, in fact, being left behind? And what can we do about it? As recruiters and as citizens, the escalating, pervasive issue of unemployment and poverty — across all ages and races — is frightening.

The picture is vividly painted when a vacancy for a teller position at Woolworths sees a line of 40 people snaking outside the store, hoping to secure a one-time 9 to 5 job with a CV. Or, during a recent recruitment for nurses, when employees from SA recruitment agency, The Tower Group, witnessed an all-day, non-stop stream of candidates arriving to hand in their credentials; including one woman who had travelled from Vryheid to Durban at 3am, in a R100 taxi ride, that had zero guarantee of being worth it. There is desperation, there is fear and, at a grassroots-level, the reality is that the job landscape is tough… and Covid-19 hasn’t helped us.

Building better business, inside-out, through learnerships

The question is: What is the solution? According to Kerry Morris, CEO of The Tower Group, “There isn’t one. Government is not doing enough and it is therefore up to business and those seeking employment to figure it out. This has to be the place where we start; to become enablers of change — one small change at a time — in ways that are within both corporates’ and individuals’ control. For instance, with learnerships.”

Achieving a Level 1 BBBEE certification is not easy. It takes significant funds, energy and effort, as well as a real desire to effect change. Linked to BEE compliancy, in-service training positions or learnerships offer individuals entering the workforce a paid opportunity to gain critical corporate experience, as well as a first-pass entry to a potential permanent position.

Fifteen years ago, The Tower Group’s top-performing Divisional Manager, Siwe Mdlalose, joined the business via a SETA learnership, and through equal parts passion and hard work, earned her first position as a recruitment administrator. Today, running one of Tower Group’s largest, multi-million-rand projects, Siwe is proof of learnerships as a win-win for business and learners. Yet, a change in attitude is required on both sides.

“There is huge value in learnerships and there is no doubt South Africa should be doing more of it. For learners or up-and-coming workers without first-hand, real-world experience, the experience is essential to break into corporate,” says Morris.

“Yet, with SETAs being severely under-funded, it is up to businesses and learners to play their part — and there’s room for growth on both ends. On the side of business, many organisations are not offering learnerships and, for those that are, many are doing the bare minimum simply to meet BEE requirements.

“And on the side of learners, not only is it often costly for many to get to work but also, when they get there, many are expecting a ‘free lunch’. This is a mindset crisis which is adding to our work crisis,” Morris adds.

Real work is about hard work, and hard work gets you seen

With millennials and Gen Z starting to dominate the workforce, so too is a culture of expectancy. Too often, with the misunderstanding that life is a ‘handout’, many young employees are starting off careers on the wrong foot, and companies don’t know where to draw the line.

“There is no such thing as a ‘free lunch’ in business,” says Morris. “It’s a hard line to draw but in the learnership environment, there are too many expectations. It’s a current-day issue amongst the youth and particularly in internships as the general consensus is you don’t have to work very hard to be rewarded.

“But nothing could be further from the truth. Real work is about hard work, and hard work gets you seen — no matter your class, culture, or creed. We need to instill this in learners and up-and-coming workers from the get-go,” says Morris.

A change in attitude and effort is therefore needed on both sides of the learnership spectrum — where business owners and learners approach our ‘new reality’ consciously and show up to be their respective bests. This is needed to change a toxic culture into a thriving one: with win-win working relationships that not only have impact, but also the opportunity to change a life, and to create long-lasting legacy.

One could only imagine if a R350 stipend, similar to the SRD grant, were to be put into SETAs per learner; how that could chip away at SA’s work crisis. Hopefully that can be on the agenda for SONA 2023. Until then, it’s small changes, for businesses and individuals, all the way.

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