The Secret to Success with Learnerships
Rajan Naidoo, the Director of EduPower Skills Academy

Mentoring and Coaching are fundamental to the success of any learning programme

A learnership is the best way to ensure that unemployed, young South Africans are set up for success in the job market. These practical programmes provide youngsters with the skills they need to enhance their employability but, according to Rajan Naidoo, the Director of EduPower Skills Academy, there is a secret to learnerships that ensures work-ready graduates who can directly impact business growth.

“Incorporating mentoring and coaching into each learnership prepares candidates for the world of work rather than just making them job-ready,” says Rajan. “We’ve seen time and again how these mechanisms develop and nurture our learners every step of the way, helping them to emerge with much greater self-confidence which allows them to seize employment or entrepreneurial opportunities.”

Knowledge Transfer

Mentorship and coaching are very different to teaching and training. Rajan explains that teaching is a curriculum-based theoretical exercise where knowledge is transferred from teacher to learner. Teaching works for the classroom component of learning- which makes up 30% of a learnership – but when it comes to work experience, learners often don’t learn technical skills at the same pace.

“You can show someone how to do something new, but it’s only when they get to do it themselves that they develop the skill. This is the job of a coach who will work with groups or on a one-on-one basis, showing learners in a structured manner the technical skills required. A coach will help individuals who are struggling, right the way through to refining the technical skills of candidates who are doing well,” he adds.

Learning the “ins and outs” of a new skill under the guidance of an experienced coach is highly beneficial but developing soft skills is equally important. “A mentor deals with life skills such as emotional, mental and psychological growth. These skills help the learners to gear their minds and emotions towards the achievement of a goal and tracking its progress, essential tools that we often take for granted in business but which our young candidates still have to learn.”

Learning from Peers

While qualified mentors and coaches work well in any learning environment, due to candidate-to-coach/mentor ratios, it’s often impossible to provide the individual attention that is needed. This is where EduPower has been highly innovative in the development of its “buddy system” as well as peer-to-peer coaching and mentoring.

“Some learners absorb technical skills faster than others and we’ve used this to create a “buddy system” in which our high flyers are each paired with and coach another learner. This is only possible if both learners are open to opportunity and the results are always excellent,” says Rajan.

The organisation has had similar results with mentoring, where learners of a similar age and culture can often resonate more effectively with their peers. “Many of our learners are people with disabilities and our learner-mentors are often more effective as they understand the subtle nuances that influence their colleagues,” he continues. “A learner in a wheelchair has a much better understanding of the challenges faced by others with similar disabilities. By sharing their coping mechanisms, our learner-mentors can provide more relevant guidance.”

Evolving Practices

Learnerships are based on a fixed curriculum according to Rajan, but mentorship and coaching are able to evolve to ensure that learners can maximise the value of the programme. It’s for this reason that he views these two essential tools as the secret to success with learnerships. By ensuring there is a flexible and dynamic coaching and mentoring system in place, EduPower remains focused on developing its young learners holistically to ensure they will be equipped with the skills and confidence they need to succeed.