Once you leave school you enter an exciting period in your life. You are on the path to becoming an adult and an important part of that journey includes choosing the right career path. It may involve studying further at an institution. It may also involve studying while you work. The latter option will help you to gain experience, while at the same time you gain the theoretical understanding of your chosen industry.

If you decide to enter the workplace after school, you will most likely continue with some form of training. If you get a job, your employer will most probably train you on what you need to do. You can also undertake a learnership or apprenticeship to gain hands-on experience in the workplace, coupled with theoretical training to ensure a well-rounded education.


The Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO) is responsible for overseeing the occupational qualifications sub-framework of the NQF, including artisan’s apprenticeships and learnerships.

The QCTO focuses on occupational qualifications that enhance and develop occupation specific competence, and in so doing, contributes to increasing productivity and ultimately employment or self-employment.

The QCTO aims to enhance the unique learning requirements required for occupational competency. This helps to develop an alternative pathway for young people and workers to access learning while on the job.

The QCTO is responsible for:

  • Development and management of trades and occupations levels;
  • Establishing and maintaining occupational standards and qualifications, and
  • The quality assurance of occupational standards, qualifications and learning in and for the workplace.


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Many people are not quite sure what a learnership is and of it is a good option for them.

What is a learnership?

A learnership is a work-based learning programme that leads to a nationally recognised qualification. Learnerships are directly related to an occupation or field of work, for example, electrical engineering, hairdressing or project management. Learnerships are managed by Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs). They were introduced by government to help skilled learners and to prepare them for the workplace.

Learnership programmes can help you to gain the necessary skills and workplace experience that will open up better employment or self-employment opportunities.

Why are learnerships important?

Learnerships promote access to education and training, as they allow you to work and get started on your career while also studying for an educational qualification.

SETAs oversee learnerships and ensure that they offer qualifications related to a specific occupation or sector of the economy. All 21 SETAs have developed NGF-aligned programmes that will help you gain recognised qualifications while getting on-the-job experience.

SETAs manage the registration of the learnerships in order to meet the skills development needs across the sectors.

Why were learnerships created?

The government was looking for ways to transform skills development in South Africa. In the past, education and training and workplace experience did not always provide a direct link between theory and practice.

To address this, the Skills Development Act and the Skills Levies Act were passed by Parliament, and structures and processes to transform skills development in South Africa were put in place.

The primary aim of the learnerships is to address the gap between the current educational and training provided and the needs of the labour market. In fact, learnerships are seen as central to skills upliftment in South Africa.

Learnerships aim to address the following challenges:.

  • Decreasing unemployment;
  • Unequal access to educational and training and unemployment opportunities;
  • The effects of race, gender and geographical location on education advancement;
  • The skills shortages in South Africa.

Learnerships promote access to education and training, as they allow you to work and get started on your career while also studying for an educational qualification.


Learnerships require you to complete a theoretical course as well as practical training, which is done at a workplace in order to graduate. The workplace component of the qualification involves hands-on, practical learning under the guidance of a mentor, while the theoretical component is provided by an education and training provider. Together they form an integrated and comprehensive learning programme.

Learnerships are made up of part-qualifications or a set of modules and learners are required to meet certain criteria for each part-qualification or module. Once these criteria have been met, a certain number of credits are awarded. Once learners have achieved the minimum number of credits, they are qualified in their chosen career.

Top Tip: The number of credits needed to graduate varies from learnership to learnership, so make sure that you understand the minimum requirements if you want to complete a learnership. Find out more from the relevant SETA.


There are three parties involved in a learnership; the learner, the employer (offering the practical training component in their business), and the education and training provider (offering the theoretical component of the learnership).


Learnerships are available to young people who have completed school, college or learning at other training institutions. You must be older than 16 and younger than 35 to be eligible for a learnership.

Unemployed South Africans can only participate in a learnership if there is an employer prepared to provide the work experience.

In fact, a learnership is dependent on a contract which legally binds the learner, the employer and the education and training provider. This contract requires the learner to be employed by the employer only for the duration of the learnership. Once the learnership has been completed, the employer can decide on whether to continue to employ the learner or not.


By now you have already out some thought into your career path, and as a result you will be able to identify a learnership that will support your career goals.

Your career path should be influenced by your interests, skills and strengths. The responsibility rests with you to investigate and research the different learnership options. You should find out as much as you can, including information on the criteria and requirements for entering a learnership.


Different learnerships have different entry requirements. We recommend that you contact the provider of the learnership for full details on the specific requirements for the learnership of your choice.

For many learnerships, the minimum entry requirement is a National Senior Certificate or National Certificate: Vocational, but there may be more specific subject requirements or even skills requirements such as computer literacy.

What are the benefits for learners?

  • You may have better employment opportunities after completing the learnership;
  • You have a fixed-term employment contract for the duration of the learnership;
  • Learnerships improve on the job performance so you are able to do things relevant to the job;
  • You obtain a nationally-recognised qualification that is relevant to the sector; and
  • You earn a learner allowance for the duration of the learnership.


Learnerships are generally funded by a relevant SETA. Since the cost of learnerships varies across SETAs and types/levels of qualifications, you should contact the relevant SETA for more information.


There is a specific minimum learner allowance that must v paid to unemployed learners in a learnership. This is not a salary but covers expenses like travel and meals. Again, you should contact the relevant SETA for more information.

Note: The amount paid as a learner allowance depends on the SEAT, type of learnership and the level of qualification. The allowances and conditions are agreed to with each learner before the commencement of the learnership.


Learnerships will last as long as it takes to complete the qualification. This means that if the duration of the qualification is two years, then the learnership will last for that period of time.


Learnerships will last as long as it takes to complete the qualification. This means that if the duration of the qualification is two years, then the learnership will last for that period of time.

During the learnership, learners will be required to complete assignments, tasks and practical tests and projects. They will formally assessed in the classroom and workplace..

If all these assignments are completed successfully, they will be awarded an NQF-aligned qualification that is recognised nationally. They will receive a certificate stating that the qualification and the area of skill development.


If you are accepted, you will need to sign two legal documents:

  • Learnership Agreement: This is an agreement signed by you, the organisation employing you, and the education and training provider offering the training component of the learnership. This agreement clearly outlines the rights and responsibilities of all three parties.
  • Employment contract: this is a contract you will sign with the employer, which is only valid for the time period of the learnership.


Once you have successfully completed your learnership, you will be in a much better position to market yourself as you will now have both work experience and theoretical training. You may also be in a better position to start your own business and generate an income that way.


Yes, a learnership can be terminated under certain circumstance:

An employer can terminate the contract of a learnership if:

  • The duration specified in the learnership agreement has expired;
  • The employer and learner have agreed in writing to terminate the learnership agreement, or if there is no such agreement, the SETA that registered the agreement approves the termination; or
  • The learner is fairly dismissed for a reason related to the learner’s conduct or capacity as an employee.

For more information, contact the SETA that manages the learnerships in the field in which you are interested.


What is an apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships combine theory, practical and workplace practice in a chosen trade field, and in the case of a listed trade ends in a trade test and an artisan qualification.

Did you know? Apprenticeships describe the particular contract that is signed between the apprentice and the pre-approved employer for the duration of the apprenticeship. Employment after qualifying as an artisan is usually guaranteed.

In South Africa, apprenticeships are monitored by the QCTO. The National Artisan Moderation Body (NAMB) oversees the quality assurance of apprenticeships on behalf of the QCTO.

NAMB is responsible for moderating trade tests, developing and managing national databases of registered artisan trade assessors and moderators, recording artisan achievements and recommending the certification of artisans to the QCTO.

Why are apprenticeships important?

Apprenticeships are aimed at developing trade-specific skills. In South Africa there are several industries that desperately need skilled artisans. By establishing a formal skills development structure, such shortages of skills can be addressed by training people in the necessary fields.

If you are interested in becoming an artisan, speak to qualified artisans and, where possible, visit their workplace to see if this is the type of work you would like to do. Also contact your local FET college’s advisory centre for guidance. Click here to view FET Colleges

How does apprenticeship work?

A formal contract is signed between the apprentice and the pre-approved employer for the duration of the apprenticeship.

The apprentice is viewed as an employee of the company and works for the company for the agreed time in order to gain the skills and experience necessary to work in the industry. This is done in conjunction with an education and training component often facilitated by a FET college.

An apprentice’s work-based experience is restricted to a single employer which is the contracted employer of the apprentice.

What is the benefit of the apprentice?

The apprenticeship programme consolidates the apprentices ability in the trade through practical skills and experience, it is also encourages further education and training opportunities.

What is the benefit to the employer?

The employer develops and provides training in the skills required for the sustainability of his/her business. Participating in apprenticeship programmes can also increase productivity, efficiency and ultimately profitability of a business enterprise.

Who is eligible?

Anybody wishing to enter a listed trade is eligible for an apprenticeship. Once you sign the apprenticeship contract, you become employed as an apprentice.

How long does an apprenticeship take?

It usually takes three to four years to achieve artisan status, after which employment is generally guaranteed should the parties agree to a continued employment relationship.

What qualification will I leave with?

The certificate issued is a trade-specific and is known as an artisan qualification. You will complete a Nated or “N” course recognised on the NQF. Also to qualify as an artisan in a listed trade, you will need to pass a trade test.

Who provides the education and training component of the qualification?

Education and training is provided by public FET colleges, and in the case of a listed trade, must culminate in a trade test by an accredited trade test centre (public or private).


Another alternative when leaving the schooling system is volunteer work. In South Africa we have thousands of community organisations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that do valuable work to assist and uplift the most disadvantaged members of our society.

These organisations always require the help of volunteers to be able to respond to the needs of their communities From cooking at old age homes, helping children with their homework at a children’s home providing home-based care for the sick, through to helping with administrative tasks, there is plenty of space within the NGO sector to gain work experience as well as give back to the community.

There are many opportunities to assist in various capacities, but you should be aware that this work is usually unpaid, although some organisations are willing to offer a small payment for travel and meals.

If you are passionate about helping to make South Africa a better place, you can investigate and research the kinds of organisations that could use your help.


Having finished this section, you should have a far better understanding of the post-school study and work options. Whatever your interests, strengths and dreams for the future, the South African education and training system has a solution for you. You should now have a clearer idea id your career path and how best to make it a reality through the various education and training options available to you.