Redefining Learnerships for the Fourth Industrial Revolution


Equipping our youth with tech-based skills is non-negotiable, and educators must integrate the emerging technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) into their training programmes. This is the only way that we can prepare our future workforce and ensure that businesses can access the skills they require for global relevance, according to Rajan Naidoo, the Managing Director of EduPower Skills Academy.

“We need to ensure that tech-driven skills are incorporated into all qualifications. While 4IR technologies have been part of most tertiary education programmes for some time, tailoring of learnership curricula has generally been slower,” he says.

Industry-Aligned Training

Targeting youth and disadvantaged groups, learnerships provide vocational training, blending theory and practical experience that enhance the learners’ employability. Accredited training providers collaborate with employers to deliver industry-aligned programmes that not only produce qualified entry-level talent, but learnerships also contribute points towards B-BBEE scorecards.

“Employability is a major indicator of the effectiveness of learnerships, as organisations are looking for candidates with practical skills,” Naidoo states. “With South African companies increasingly adopting emerging technology, training providers have the additional responsibility of ensuring that their learnership programmes keep pace with relevant 4IR skills.”

QCTO Occupational Qualifications

Naidoo believes the focus on tech-based skills will be delivered in part by the move to QCTO certification. These occupationally directed qualifications are setting the direction for job-related content in the modern workplace and new learnership qualifications in IT and other emerging technologies are being developed.

With its focus on developing skills for employability, Naidoo says that EduPower has incorporated 4IR skills into all its learnerships for several years. “As our learnerships are business-focused, we have wholly supported and embraced job-related, technology-based training, adapting our accreditations so that we can include the QCTO’s new qualifications with relevant content,” he explains.

As part of this adaptation, EduPower’s learnerships now encompass a range of emerging technologies to develop skills in data management, business intelligence, computer programming, computer network management and even an introduction to artificial intelligence.

Equal Playing Field

Naidoo notes that one of the positive aspects has been the response of people with disabilities to these technology-focused learnerships.

“We have seen first-hand that learnerships incorporating digital skills actually encourage inclusivity and accessibility. The majority of our learners are people with disabilities, and we’ve found that technology levels the playing field by providing tools for reasonable accommodation,” he says. “People with disabilities can compete more easily in a tech-based environment, as opposed to doing physically demanding tasks, and as a result, they integrate more easily into the workforce.”

Agile Curricula

The need for tech-focused learnerships is therefore crystal clear.

Unfortunately, South Africa’s schooling system is unable to take on this responsibility and too many scholars matriculate with only limited computer experience and low math and English proficiency. For several, their first exposure to technology is through learnerships, so if training providers are slow to adapt to the demands of 4IR or if they neglect to do this entirely, there will be severe long-term implications for our economy.

“South African companies are increasingly adopting new digital technologies to remain globally competitive and their demand for skilled individuals – even at entry-level – continues to grow.  Not aligning learnerships with the demands of 4IR would signify that we are falling short in our duty as educators and businesses to prepare our youth to enter the economy,” Naidoo cautions. And, as technology forges ahead, particularly with the introduction of AI, and the job market evolves, the nature of work will inevitably change. This will result in the creation of new job roles and the obsolescence of others.  

By training providers and employers collaborating to develop tech-based curricula that are agile and can keep pace with rapid changes, learnerships can prepare individuals for some of the types of jobs that will be in demand in the future. “This proactive approach ensures that the workforce will be equipped with relevant skills for the digital age, thereby supporting economic growth and individual employability. It’s about aligning skills development with the anticipated needs of the future job market,” Naidoo concludes.

Rajan Naidoo, the Managing Director of EduPower Skills Academy.