Evaluating the learnership programme
Strategy & Tactics were commissioned to undertake a baseline evaluation of the learnership programme, focusing mainly on an assessment of beneficiary (enterprise and individual) perspectives of learnerships.
Following on the first democratic elections in 1994, the African National Congress-led government inherited a country characterised by high levels of poverty and unemployment. A declining economy served only to compound this situation. The last decade has seen the government respond to this situation on a multitude of levels employing a range of strategies and approaches. One such strategy has been the Human Resource Development Strategy.
An important aspect of this strategy focuses on transforming workplace education and training and seeks to encourage increased investment by employers in the skills of their workforce. The Skills Development Act of 1998 situates a national strategy for skills development within the Department of Labour, with the vehicle for operationalising this strategy known as the Labour Market Skills Development Programme (LMSDP) and its main elements include:
- Introduction of a skills development levy.
- Introduction of learnerships and skills programmes.
- Systematic skills development planning requirements at national, sectoral and workplace levels.
- Creation of a new sector/industry training infrastructure.
Purpose of the evaluation
At an operational level, the LMSDP is divided into a number of projects that are being implemented in parallel to each other. Tasked with a number of activities, monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of the LMSDP is a key activity. The overall objective of the M&E activities is to enhance the capacity for strategic decision-making in the labour market with a view to improvements in skills development, job opportunities and economic performance.
A pilot study was undertaken during the latter part of 2003, leading to the refinement of instruments for the broader baseline study in 2004. The activities undertaken during 2004 included both qualitative and quantitative methods. On the qualitative side of things, we conducted in-depth interviews with all available SETAs and with a selection of supervisors from the companies involved in the programme. We also conducted focus groups with completed learners. On the quantitative front, we undertook a survey of 1 207 completed learners and 201 employers.
Main findings from the evaluation
The learnership programme has achieved the following:
- 77% of 18.2 learners were employed on a full-time or part-time basis when interviewed
- 73% of all 18.2 learners on learnerships with the employers interviewed, had been employed by those employers on completion
- 40% of learners stated that their expectations of the learnerships had been exceeded, 56% said they had been met and only 4% said they had not been met
- Completed learners are generally very positive about the efficiency of the recruitment and selection process
- Over half of employers agreed that recruitment was influenced by the incentives for recruiting unemployed learners; incentives are achieving their purpose
- Most learners were positive about the overall organisation and objectives of the training, reflecting well on the training providers
- The vast majority of learners claimed that the theoretical training gave them the right skills to do their job, a very positive finding for the programme
- Almost all learners pointed to the positive impact of the learnership on the various aspects of their job
- Almost all employers felt that the impact of the programme on their company’s performance had been positive
The main challenges that are still facing the programme are as follows:
- The lower incidence of recognition of prior learning and learning plans is a concern, especially among socially marginalised groups including women, youth and others
- Labour Centres should be key in helping employers identify unemployed recruits but only 4% of employers gave them a positive score, rising slightly for Skills Development Facilitators (SDFs) and SETAs
- A worrying proportion of employers felt they had a limited choice of training providers and that they were not aware of the nature of the training to be provided at the outset
- 13% of learners did not have a supervisor appointed, with higher proportions of 18.2 learners and those at NQF levels 1-3 without supervision
- Three fifths of learners did not have a mentor appointed
- On completion of the programme, only 13% of learners claimed any follow-up from SETAs as did 63% of employers
- Few SETAs reported that they were monitoring against set targets or milestones
- Almost no SETAs have identified the organisational arrangements for M&E
- SETAs also mentioned that they receive very little feedback on the reports they submit to the DoL
Learnerships are a key weapon in government’s battle to enhance sustainable economic growth while redressing some of the ills inherited from the past. The results of this longitudinal evaluation of learnerships are extremely positive: learnerships are working, and working well, according to surveys among learners and among employers.
Many challenges of course remain: this is to be expected of a national intervention of this scale and complexity. Learnerships have generated so much positive sentiment among those currently in them, those who have completed learnerships and among employers, that the challenges seem certain to be met.
[Acknowledgement: This study was done under the auspices of the Department of Labour and we acknowledge their support in conducting this study. A full copy of the report is available from the Department, contact Mr P. Tela, email address: Pat.Telela@labour.gov.za]