Learnerships make a comeback

Funding for learnerships took a knock in 2021, which resulted in fewer opportunities for people with disabilities. RUSTIM ARIEFDIEN explores in more detail

There was a marked decrease in learnership opportunities for persons with disabilities in 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic took its toll on skills development opportunities. Funding from Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) were severely curtailed due to the skills development levy holiday.

In May 2020, the South African Revenue Service (SARS) implemented a four-month holiday for skills development levy contributions. Businesses are required to pay a levy of one percent of total salaries to SARS. These funds are then allocated to the various SETAs.

During this “holiday”, no contribution had to be made. The goal was to offer businesses a break as a way to improve the cash flow of companies that are struggling with the challenges brought on due to the pandemic. As a result, there was less funding available for the SETAs to offer skills development programmes.

Additionally, employers were unsure about the state of the economy, and many of them held back on their skills development spending. Other employers went out of business, reducing skills development opportunities.

However, 2022 is promising. Employers are keen to continue their economic recovery. The most substantial companies have weathered the economic storm and are actively planning their way forward, including skills development and learnerships.

The SETAs, although with much less funding than in 2019, are gearing up to operate “normally” again. Disability learnerships are once again on top of the agenda.

BBBEE remains a strong business imperative, and companies have realised that disability points on their BBBEE Scorecard are vital.

Employers are much more cautious and seem to understand better the opportunities that training persons with disabilities hold.

For disability organisations, this presents an ideal opportunity to fundraise by applying for learnerships and recruiting and supporting learners and employers.

By building relationships with the various SETAs, organisations can ascertain when the discretionary grant window opens and the criteria for applications.

Identify employers where your beneficiaries can be of value. Present to prospective employers the importance of meeting the Employment Equity targets and how your organisation can add value to companies in terms of their BBBEE Scorecard.

Prospective learners need to be aware of learnership opportunities. Ensure that your CV is updated and that proof of disability and education results are at hand. If you miss one of these essential documents, ensure you obtain it.

Liaise with your local disability organisations and ask them to keep you informed of available learnership opportunities.

For employers, it is advisable to build relationships with disability organisations in your areas of operation. They are well equipped to assist in developing a disability skills development strategic plan for your business.

They can help with the recruitment of learners and support these learners, as well as the business, for the duration of the learnership.

A decline in learnerships, learner commitment, and attendance are serious challenges currently being experienced by employers. A well- structured learner support programme can address these challenges.

The organisation will recommend their required reasonable accommodation to assist the learner in excelling in the workplace.

They can intervene if challenges are experienced by learners, such as absenteeism, managing and understanding their role in the workplace, and assisting the skills development provider to manage and understand the learners that they are training.

The year 2021 was a very low point for us all. We continue to adapt to COVID-19, and the associated challenges – a pandemic that may very well be with us for the foreseeable future.

However, as South Africans, we are very resilient. I am sure we will embrace the opportunities available to us, despite the challenging economic climate as we strive to thrive in 2022.


Rustim Ariefdien is a disability expert extraordinaire who assists businesses to “let the Ability of disAbility enAble their profitAbility” through BBBEE, skills development, employment equity and socio-economic development.

His purpose is the economic empowerment of persons with disability in Africa. As a person with a disability himself, he has extensive experience in the development and empowerment of persons with disability.

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