Enterprising School Leavers

Enterprising School Leavers
Learning Brief


Trade-Mark business training for tradesmen: a homemade approach

Category: Enterprising School Leavers | Alignment between training for trades and work | 16 July, 2014 - 02:00


Project background

TRADE-MARK exists to empower tradesmen from the townships and low-income communities in South Africa to build successful businesses. A key component to this is enabling the tradesmen to access additional business and expand their entrepreneurship capacity. We help them do this by promoting their services under the TRADE-MARK brand, which allows them greater access to the market and assists them in securing their own business as their network of clients grows. However, this is only one element of building a successful enterprise. Having the necessary skills to manage a business effectively is just as important. This is the second component of our work – we aim to help tradesmen grow their business capacity and skill.

In this learning brief we discuss six lessons learnt about implementing our capacity and skills training programme for tradesmen.

Implementing a business skills training programme for tradesman

Initially, our plan was to connect our tradesmen to existing business training opportunities offered by third-party training institutions or programmes, such as the Micro MBA offered by The Business Place. We didn’t envision that we would offer these kinds of training programme ourselves. What we found however is that the skills our tradesmen are lacking are very specific to their industry, and the generic business training programmes do not meet our beneficiary’s targeted needs. Even though these generic programmes do add value to the businesses, a customised programme seemed to offer a more effective solution in addressing the specific challenges the tradesmen face. For example, all our tradesmen currently lack some broader skills such as professional invoicing, but a few others lack specific skills in accurate quoting. We recognised the need for tailored group training sessions as well as individual mentoring that target the few specific needs of our tradesmen.

Along the way in setting up and implementing our training programme we have encountered the following lessons that we wish to share with other organisations endeavouring to start a similar programme.

Six lessons learnt
The lessons we learnt are not only applicable to our work, but to other organisations and funders involved in tradesmen training.

The first important lesson is that on-going and open dialogue between beneficiaries and the training organisation is crucial to ensuring that all interventions are as relevant to the needs of the beneficiaries as is possible. We believe that it is vital to create a space for open conversations; and an environment where the beneficiaries feel that they own the programme and can comfortably speak about its direction. One also has to be flexible and willing to adapt the programme if the beneficiaries suggest a new approach that better suits them.

Second, adapt the programme as needed according to the needs of the beneficiaries. We have adapted our training programme according to the needs highlighted by the tradesmen. For instance, we appointed a highly successful property developer to facilitate our training sessions and give more targeted training. Initial feedback from the first group of sessions was positive and enthusiastic because the sessions addressed specific issues that the tradesmen had highlighted as being knowledge gaps.

Third, funders need to give organisations the leeway to adapt and change their approach/methodology in order to remain relevant to the beneficiaries they serve. Training organisations like ours need to seek out donors who understand this need for flexibility, or they need to discuss this upfront with the funders.

Fourth, when considering training partnerships it is important to understand upfront precisely what value such a partnership will add. Carefully consider if it isn’t more appropriate to develop the training expertise in-house – e.g. building a training programme from scratch if necessary. We say this because, while partnerships with other organisations/institutions often add value and multiply one’s impact, without adding a financial burden to the organisation, it is usually not possible to tailor the training to meet the specific needs of all beneficiaries. Our organisation aims to meet the very specific needs of our beneficiaries and training partnerships, that offer generalist training, does not allow us to fulfil our mandate effectively.

Fifth, for any organisation focused on developing entrepreneurs, collective training programmes are not a substitute for personal mentoring. While we have yet to embark on our own mentoring programme, the discussions we have had with our tradesmen make it very clear that there is a huge need for one-on-one training to empower them to become successful entrepreneurs. The price tag for professional mentoring is by no means cheap. However, we believe that investing in a few individuals in order to develop their entrepreneurship capacity is worth the targeted expenditure.

Finally, implement a monitoring and evaluation framework. In the future, we plan to put an effective evaluation process in place to assess the value added by the training, and to reflect on how it might be improved. It will be based on continuous feedback from the tradesmen.


In this learning brief we have shared our experience in setting up and implementing a business capacity training programme for tradesmen in South Africa. Our six lessons are aimed at helping other organisations avoid unnecessary pitfalls when starting similar programmes. The lessons concern giving voice to the training beneficiaries, ensuring funding is flexibly designated, considering in-house training, a focus on personal mentoring, and implementing an evaluation system.


2 Spinnaker Ave Cape Town Lakeside South Africa



In Short

TRADE-MARK shares its experience in setting up and implementing a business capacity training programme for tradesmen in South Africa. The six lessons listed in this learning brief may help organisations endeavouring to start a similar training programme avoid some unnecessary pitfalls.

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