Enterprising School Leavers

Enterprising School Leavers
Learning Brief

Learn to Earn

Expanding our job-placement service

Category: Enterprising School Leavers | Opportunity mediation services | 21 March, 2013 - 14:12


Unemployment remains one of the greatest economic and social challenges in the world today, bringing with it poverty and the social ills attendant therewith.  It was interesting to hear a Eurozone government representative recently bemoaning that region’s increasing unemployment rate – having reached 11% at the time[1].  In South Africa, recently released figures [May 2012] indicate that unemployment is slightly over 25% and those working in previously disadvantaged communities know that it can reach levels of up to 75% in those areas.

The impact of unemployment and poverty has been studied and written about in countless academic articles and newspaper reports and has been discussed in many settings – from grass roots organisations to Parliament.  Working in communities such as Khayelitsha and Zwelihle/ Mount Pleasant (in Hermanus) as Learn to Earn does, gives that debate a human face.  Unemployment does not only lead to poverty, crime and other such social ills – it also leads to hopelessness, frustration and a lack of self-esteem and sense of dignity.  The inertia which results can paralyse entire sections of society and any programmes intent on addressing this issue need to adopt a holistic approach in respect of the people with whom it seeks to engage.

Learn to Earn has as its vision the eradication of unemployment and other legacies of injustice in South Africa and further afield. Focusing on skills development, it nonetheless seeks to address the whole person – looking at development economically, emotionally, socially and spiritually.  In its 23 years of existence, it has sought to remain relevant to changing trends and to allow its experience in the field to feedback into its programme development.  Graduates who complete their training at Learn to Earn have been tracked based on rate of economic activity – measured by noting formal employment, self-employment and access to the Business Resource Centre or to Project programmes.  Over the past number of years, this rate has been over 70% of the students who complete the training course.  Although there has been this level of success in terms of Learn to Earn graduates becoming economically active, we have sought to improve and increase opportunity in the face of deteriorating economic circumstances.

This aim resulted in the formalisation of the placement of graduates into the workplace through the establishment of a structured department, responsible for this role is the current focus.  Through the creation of the Placement Officer role, Learn to Earn seeks to create the vital link between semi-skilled workers and the market place.  In the past, mostly on an ad hoc basis, Learn to Earn has been able to place graduates into formal employment through its network of partners.  This unstructured placement system has contributed up to 26%[2] of the number of graduates who have become economically active within a year of leaving the programme.  Given this relatively high placement rate even on an informal basis, it is envisaged that a formal placement system could have an exponential effect. 

This increased rate of economic activity would have an impact on a local level - statistics indicate that one employed person contributes to households of an average of seven people in the communities in which we work.  In rolling out this model to our Association members we would be able to impact on communities regionally (we have Associates in Langa and Fisantekraal) and nationally (Johannesburg, Atteridgeville, Howick).  The pilot phase which the current funding permits would allow us to work through the best manner in which to develop, implement and monitor this function.

Our new job placement service in a nutshell

In the communities in which we work and through feedback from our graduates, we have come to recognise that while entrepreneurship has a role to play, unemployed people may best be served by finding stable, salaried employment.  The challenge has been to link our graduates who have been trained – both in core skills and holistically in terms of Life Skills - to the job market.  We have noted that, despite the inputs received at Learn to Earn, that our graduates still lack the confidence to approach potential employers. Some examples of issues are:

  • Failure to attend an arranged interview because of poor planning regarding transport/ lack of directions;
  • No discussion with the potential employer regarding salary or hours leading to a subsequent sense of ‘exploitation’ when salaries are paid the first time and subsequent absconding from the workplace;
  • Unrealistic expectations with regard to salary/ level of employment based on skills leading to discontent with job offers.

The focus at Learn to Earn thus turned to the ‘end product’ of the training and development process – that is, what happens to our graduates when they leave the programme and seek to enter the workplace or become economically active.  In this regard we aimed to ensure that all our interventions are structured to equip our graduates more effectively towards entering the labour market and to implement new interventions that could directly support this aim.

Our new formal service now entails the following:

  • During orientation, students are briefed of the requirements and opportunities for placement;
  • Training are focused on job-related skills, responsibilities and ethics;
  • Databases are constantly updated to reflect current data pertaining both to students and potential employers;
  • The Placement Officer deliberately targets potential employers for inclusion on the database;
  • Vacancies are monitored and suitable candidates identified;
  • Candidates are briefed for the position and given support in this regard;
  • We hope to increase the success rate of placements through employer feedback and implementation of lessons learned within the Life Skills curriculum at Learn to Earn.

Our mission in terms of placements have been infused into all our departments and operations from the Administrator/Receptionist who, when initially welcoming potential new students, are required to ensure that they have realistic expectations of their time at Learn to Earn,  the trainers who need to properly orientate and guide students regarding workplace behaviours and norms, to the Placement Officer and management teams who are involved in building networks and support structures. The specific outcomes of our new approach is:

  • To increase to 50% the placement of graduates into the formal sector by linking them to existing job opportunities;
  • To monitor and improve the sustainability of programme-related employees in the workplace
  • To address the unemployment problem at current Learn to Earn venues in the Western Cape (Khayelitsha and Hermanus) and nationally by the implementation of a similar programme at all Learn to Earn Associates
  • To draw potential employers into partnerships which would incorporate the hosting of practical ‘job shadowing’ modules and taking-up of graduates into formal posts
  • To improve course offerings at Learn to Earn and its Associates by responding to the needs of the job-market.

We hope to report back to this forum on the progress of implementation in the near future and would welcome any advice at this early stage of implementation. 

[2] Learn to Earn Annual Report 2010_2011


30 Sixwayikati Street, Ilitha Park, Khayelitsha

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In Short

In this learning brief Learn to Earn describes their reasons for formalising their job placement service for the graduates of their educational programmes.  At this early stage they provide a description of their intended service and the outcomes that they hope to achieve.  We eagerly await future briefs to hear how implementation is turning out. 

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