Enterprising School Leavers

Enterprising School Leavers
Learning Brief

Learn to Earn

Experiential entrepreneurship skills development for unemployed adults

Category: Enterprising School Leavers | Opportunity mediation services | 15 August, 2013 - 12:00



Conventional wisdom tells us that if you finish high school, get a job and get married before having children you have a good chance of avoiding the poverty trap. Conventional wisdom or not, practically in South Africa it is certainly not the truth. At Learn to Earn we have an opportunity to work with people whose lives didn’t necessarily turn out like this and who are in need of a life change and a career change. Fortunately the vision that’s been serving us over the past 23 years still works. Our vision is to assist in the eradication of unemployment and other legacies of injustice in South Africa. One of these injustices is the negative effect on black schooling – and the resultant poor school systems, inadequate management and low teacher quality. At Learn to Earn we give students from previously disadvantaged schools the opportunity to learn differently. We encourage engagement, research, reflection, and give exposure to the workplace. In many ways, this prepares them for the world of work.

As a Placement Officer at Learn to Earn, I have seen how our course offerings, and the dedicated process of following up on each student have helped people change their lives. I have witnessed how our graduates are becoming economically active and how they are able to improve their lives and that of their family members.

I have also witnessed a number of issues of concern. Our student profile, for example, is complex. It became clear that we needed to break it down into various levels so as to understand students and their needs more effectively.

Student classification system

In order to better understand our students and their needs we decided to break down the student profile into various categories. We can then use these categories to appropriately assist students with their needs. Currently this process is still being developed but we are sharing our working draft of the student profile categories in this learning brief.

  • Penniless – These are usually students who have no, or extremely little, formal education background. They have never been to school; have lived most of their lives in rural areas; have no marketable employment skills; speak and write no English; and are usually over the age of 50 years. These individuals are not highly ‘employable’ but many of them do receive a Government grant of some sort. These students come to Learn to Earn with the goal of keeping busy and to learn a marketable skill.
  • Survivalist – These are commonly, individuals who are always on the lookout for new opportunities. Their education backgrounds vary but they are highly motivated and take initiative in their own life-course. These students come to Learn to Earn with the goal of learning a new skill so that they can become self-employed.
  • Semi-skilled – This category includes individuals who have worked for many years in factory-type environments doing menial jobs where they learn only a handful of tasks. They have low education levels, ranging from grade 1-7, and have no other marketable skill relevant for a rapidly changing labour market. We recognise that because they are usually mature adults with some work experience they are more “employable”. These students come to Learn to Earn with the goal of acquiring a new skill that will help them find a higher earning job.
  • Young school dropouts – This includes persons who dropped out of school between grade 8 and 11 somewhat recently. They are young; can write, read, and speak English marginally well; have no skills and no work experience; and most likely live at home with support from family members. They also have high expectations for their future job prospects and we recognise that they still need strong guidance, even if they don’t ask for it. These students come to Learn to Earn with the goal of acquiring a skill that will help them find any job, and they want to be able to compete with their peers who are earning degrees and diplomas.
  • Unemployed Graduates – These are individuals who completed high school and have their national certificates but for many years they have been unable to get a job. This group of people are focused and know what they want but do not have the means to achieve their goals. They are more mature than recent graduates, are self-aware, and are able to ask for help. These students come to Learn to Earn with the goal of acquiring a skill that will help them find a job or help them become self-employed.


How we help our diverse students


During the Learn to Earn course offering we have realised that many students are scared to approach potential employers because they don’t feel they have any skills to offer. We decided to address this problem by helping them recognise their skills; identify and express their abilities and strengths; and become aware of their positive and negative traits.  We thus introduced a participatory interview class. Everyone is given a template on which to record their past work experiences (e.g. security guarding, housekeeping, waitressing, etc.). Then, in class, we collectively identify the skills they gained in each job and list these. This simple activity has helped students recognise the skills and talents they do have, and it empowers them in the job interview process.


When individuals first come to Learn to Earn they often have very little understanding of their own capabilities and they lack confidence. More importantly, they also have little idea of what kinds of skills they can acquire through our program and how this will help them find a job (or even what kind of job they could realistically find with this skill). So, many come with misunderstanding, misinformation, and unrealistic expectations. In order to address these expectations we introduced a Structured Orientation program at the recruitment phase. During the Structured Orientation they learn about our program’s goals and purpose, the rules and regulations, the benefits and opportunities, and their responsibilities as students. In addition, we discuss why we request certain things from them and give them opportunities to ask questions, and to get to know their campus peers and trainers. After these sessions students can freely choose to opt out of the program.


At Learn to Earn we know that our students are all unique and that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to teaching and training is not appropriate. Our diversity of students means that their experiences and personal circumstance differ. Accordingly, we try to plan and deliver courses and activities that increase the chances of all our students finding future employment. We cater for each student in our program and tailor our efforts to their needs.


We are dedicated to helping students get work experience. As students and staff we work together to find information on jobs, to call and research different companies, and to expose students to different kinds of job opportunities. We require all courses offerings to have experimental work opportunities such as internships, job shadowing, workplace visits, volunteering, guest lecturing, etc. In this way we can encourage greater employer engagement with our students.


New initiatives to date

  • Structured Orientation
  • “Job club” – LtE Placement this offers our students / graduates job opportunities, peer sharing and problem solving. 
  • Exposure programmes / horizontal exchange
  • JobStart (work and skills programme training) 
  • Dynamic training basic ed (active English) - one of the employers’ requirements, understanding the field terminologies 
  • Experts visits as guest lectures 
  • Quarterly meetings with employers - this to strengthen links with them, understanding their need

Strategies taking place right now

We aim to link our students to other organisations for further training. This will increase opportunities and possibilities for them and will assist in closing the unemployment gap. In the Bake for Profit course students had difficulties sustaining their small businesses so they indicated to us that they would like to be considered for job opportunities or other opportunities. We had to make it clear to students that sometimes it is not possible to go from being a student to getting a job immediately but that there are other avenues we can explore. 

Other initiatives we will be undertaking in the future”

  • Increase the number of employer / student engagement sessions which focus on business need for entry level employability skills
  • Review and refine our training delivery
  • Target employers to engage in the curriculum design
  • Raise awareness of our profile and capabilities among employers through exhibitions, meetings, promotional materials and visits
  • Be part of employment forums / groups
  • Work closely with One Cape 2040 Employment sector
  • Pre-Assessments of students to ensure the right ‘fit’



30 Sixwayikati Street, Ilitha Park, Khayelitsha

 (021) 136 5972


In Short

In this learning brief Learn to Earn’s Placement Officer shares lessons on how the organisation has developed a student classification system. This is used to help the organisation tailor its services to uniquely prepare different kinds of students for the job market.

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