Of fraud and transformation 

Of fraud and transformation 

Recent changes in the local education sector provide a perfect opportunity to tackle the South African learnership scam …  

Learnerships are South Africa’s most powerful skills development mechanism, but they could be playing an even greater role than they are in eradicating unemployment. Unfortunately, some dishonest learners are defrauding the system by enrolling for multiple learnerships at the same time.

EduPower Skills Academy is an accredited training provider that delivers solutions for skills and enterprise development. Managing director Rajan Naidoo says this unscrupulous behaviour is not just unlawful, but robs others who are serious about gaining formal occupational qualifications of learning opportunities. “We have no idea how many people are involved, but we know for a fact that an increasing number of learners are negatively exploiting the gaps in the learnership system for financial gain. This is outright fraud and if they are caught, there must be repercussions,” he states. “Sadly, the real victims of this crime are the individuals who may never have the opportunity to enrol for a learnership because there are none available.”

According to Naidoo, there are three ways that candidates are swindling the learnership system:

  1. The most common reason to register for multiple learnerships is to illegally benefit from the compounded stipend. Unfortunately, many attempts are successful because the Sector Education and Training Authority’s (SETA’s) different sectors work independently of each other, meaning there is no single database recording all learnership registrations. Learners can exploit this weakness and are doing so.
  2. There has also been a trend toward funding people with disabilities (PWDs) for unemployed learnerships. As the community of PWDs is small relative to the general population, this has caused demand to outstrip the supply of candidates, leading to some unintended consequences. Some able-bodied learners find complicit partners in the medical industry to create false medical certificates to present themselves as disabled. In addition, learners with a medically certified disability are sometimes able to register for more than one learnership concurrently because of demand for these candidates.
  3. Many learners register for a learnership but do not attend classes or gain work experience. Some training providers enable this behaviour by allowing and encouraging learners to be absent for most of the learnership. Even worse, they do not ensure that learners get appropriate work experience. Learnerships have a monetary value for these training providers, meaning all social value is usurped.

The solution?

Naidoo believes that to optimise the positive impact of learnerships, all role players in the learnership value chain need to play their part. “The SETAs and the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO) must work in a coordinated manner to ensure databases are synchronised to prevent learners from multiple concurrent registrations,” he says. “However, the main responsibility falls on the funder of the learnerships.”

This might be the perfect time to implement such changes. From June, the local education sector has begun to move away from “legacy” unit standards run by the 21 local SETAs to standards run by the QCTO. During the teething process, it would be advantageous to implement some checks and balances.

Christoper Mörsner, head of training and consulting at the Dekra Institute of Learning, explains why the changeover has been implemented. “As learners move from the SETA landscape to the QCTO environment, they will ultimately experience more standardisation within their occupational-based qualifications,” he says.

“For example, within the SETA landscape, learners are able to combine modules in order to achieve their final legacy qualification. This has played a role in creating a situation in which there can be substantial differences in the same legacy qualification in various regions of the country – legacy qualifications are not standardised,” Mörsner continues. “Under the new rules within the QCTO environment, this will not happen; all recorded modules within the occupational qualification are compulsory. Learners will have to complete all the modules, including knowledge, practical, and workplace experience.”

This standardisation will benefit the industry. As for the learnerships, Naidoo offers some final advice: “Funders are becoming more sensitised to the real value of learnerships, which is the long-term employability of the beneficiaries. However, the onus is on funders to select the right training provider, with a value system that is beyond reproach and that offers mentorship and life skills coaching to assist learners to make better choices.”

Published by

Jaco de Klerk

JACO DE KLERK is editor of SHEQ MANAGEMENT and assistant editor of its sister publication FOCUS on Transport and Logistics. It’s nearly a decade later, and he is still as passionate about all things SHEQ-related since his first column, Sound Off, which he wrote for this magazine as well.
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