Learnerships have the potential to make significant inroads in South Africa’s skills shortage and unemployment challenges. For this to happen, though, innovative delivery approaches are necessary to ensure that people who live outside the major cities are not overlooked.
Well executed learnerships are extremely effective in developing skills and preparing candidates for the workplace. The secret to this effectiveness lies in the careful and deliberate combining of structured learning with structured workplace experience, both containing theory and practical components.
Traditionally, the theory component is delivered in contact sessions where facilitators and students are in the same venue. Although recognised as highly effective, contact time adds a significant cost and, often, logistical burden to the learnership.
When a large corporate in the insurance industry approached Bytes People Solutions to design a learnership that can be delivered digitally to its staff members in more rural areas, the first question the development team asked themselves was ‘what constitutes contact time?’. “The answer was that facilitators and learners don’t have to be in the same room for contact time to take place,” says Alwyn van der Linde – Business Unit Executive: Career Campus at Bytes People Solutions. “With that in mind, we had the freedom to use technology to help us reach as many people as possible, regardless of where their offices are.”
The programme that the client wanted delivered, in line with its employees’ personal skills development plans, was BPS’ end-user computing learnership. A SAQA-registered national qualification, it is a year-long programme that involves the usual mix of contact time and practical experience, culmination in the submission of a portfolio of evidence.
The technology-supported solution that Alwyn and his team developed, is a blended approach of self-learning, digital interactions using Skype, email and telephone calls, and face-to-face sessions.
All the course material is loaded onto a laptop and delivered electronically, but without having to be connected to the Internet. The content is structured, allowing people to work through it on their own according to the learnership schedule. At the conclusion of each topic an assessment has to be completed, and learners write an exam at the end of every module, or cluster of topics. Although everything is done digitally, dedicated facilitators keep a very close (and very human) eye on the learners’ progress.
Regular Skype sessions take place to monitor students’ progress and state of mind, and to discuss the upcoming material. The facilitators are always available to assist. Students who are not keeping up are flagged immediately and remedial action decided on.
Seventy students, from areas as diverse as Lusikisiki and Standerton, have joined the first digitally delivered learnership. “The programme had to be scheduled according to the workforce planning done in each of the company contact centres,” says Alwyn. “As a result, each student’s schedule is unique so as to not disrupt the functioning of their workplaces.”
Despite the minimum disruption requirement, the students’ employer has agreed that half of the time required to complete a module can be worktime; the other half is students’ own time. “The fact that the employer is making time available increases the students’ odds of succeeding,” says Alwyn.
The client is not the only party with an investment in the learnership. BPS supplies each student with the full kit they need, namely hardware, software, connection devices and the learning content. The company also developed a support mechanism that can address three kinds of problems: a student not understanding the content; hardware faults, e.g. a laptop not working; and/or software issues, such as an unresponsive programme.
“The design and execution of this learnership is ground-breaking work for us,” says Dr Madelise Grobler: MD of Bytes People Solutions. “Our approach has always been to set up physical training venues, wherever they were needed, with a facilitator standing in front of the learners. This digital delivery model is therefore unchartered territory, but its potential is undeniable and we are keen to partner with more employers that need to upskill employees who are not in the major urban centres.”
About Bytes People Solutions:
BYTES PEOPLE SOLUTIONS is a professional provider of Skills Development, Talent Management and Business Process Outsourcing, enabling organisations to drive excellence in business processes. Services include Assessment Centres, Business Process Outsourcing, Contact Centre Solutions, Content Development, Enabling Technologies, ICT Learning Solutions, Online Learning Technologies, Professional Services and Soft Skills Development