Learnerships > National Qualifications Framework

National Qualifications Framework

How do learnerships relate to the NQF?
The qualifications and standards for a Learnership need to be based on both the current and future knowledge and competence requirements for that area of work. These areas of knowledge and competence are then enhanced and deepened through the integration into the qualification and standards of general education components.

NQF Bands
Learnerships will straddle all three bands of the NQF (General, Further and Higher), each of which may have different qualification requirements or which may serve different purposes.

General Education and Training (GET)
The GET band represents the foundational competencies required for successful further learning. In most countries, foundational competencies are met by universal primary education.
Learnerships for adults at the GET band (NQF Level 1) will have to satisfy a very large need for educational redress to ensure that there is a proper foundation for further learning.

Further Education and Training (FET)
The FET band builds on the general, foundational band. The lower levels of the FET band are represented by basic competencies (which can be developed directly or indirectly by general and academic education).
In addition, an important component of basic competencies is the socialisation of pre-employed people to “work norms” such as team work, etc. These competencies tend to occupy a special place at the lower end of senior secondary schools and vocational training systems / colleges.
The higher levels of the FET band are represented by a combination of general and specific competencies.
  • General competencies include capabilities that are transferable across many employers, especially within an occupation
  • Specific competencies are those, which are specific to an employer, or even a job. These skills are often developed through higher secondary schools / vocational and technical schools / vocational training institutes / and apprenticeships

Higher Education and Training (HET)
The higher education band is characterised by higher levels of competencies and notions of specialisation and professionalism. It also includes learning aimed at developing innovation capabilities, e.g. research / design, management and organisational development, etc.
NQF Levels
All learnerships will be expected to pitch their qualification levels according to the qualification outcomes outlined below, indicating whether they are aimed at foundational / basic / general/ advanced outcomes. This must be done at a qualification (rather than unit standard) level, where the overall purpose of the qualification is defined. The decision about the levels of unit standards has to be based on the number of credits required for qualifications as well as the overall outcomes to be met by the unit standards.
Learnerships relate to the NQF in the following ways:
NOTE: Always refer to the latest Regulations

NQF band

NQF level

Learnership qualification outcomes

Formal education & training levels



Advanced competencies with professional competencies being the ultimate outcome

Post-secondary education



General and specific occupational competencies with emphasis on developing independence in learning and work

Upper senior secondary/vocational


Basic competencies with emphasis on further analytical and problem solving skills, as well as socialisation to the norms of work – and an introduction to general and specific occupational competencies (Level 4)

Lower senior secondary/vocational


Basic competencies with emphasis on analytical and problem solving skills, as well as socialisation to the norms of work



Foundational competencies with emphasis on literacy and numeracy as well as citizenry obligations and rights

Pre-senior secondary

The majority of learnerships will be expected to be at Levels 2 to 5, with a few at Level 1 and Levels 6 and 7

Comparison between Learnerships and Apprenticeships
  Learnerships Apprenticeships
Relevance to occupations
  • Appropriate in any occupations in all economic sectors in which work-based learning paths are viable
  • While being specific to an occupation, it also develops employability across a wide spectrum of work
  • Tended to be restricted to blue collar trades
  • Many trades are relevant in a wide variety of sectors, e.g. electricians and machine operator
Target group
  • Learners in most occupational fields
  • Can be employed, unemployed or pre-employed at the time of entering the Learnership
  • Mostly in traditional trades
  • Apprentices are employed for the duration of the apprenticeship
NQF level
  • The qualifications that Learnerships lead to can span across all eight NQF levels
  • The qualification is not higher than the trade level, i.e. the equivalent of NQF level 4
Age of learners
  • No age restriction on learners entering Learnerships
  • Usually entry-level employees
  • Duration is determined by the minimum of 120 credits of the qualification, therefore Learnerships will run for a minimum of a year, which is required to obtain 120 credits
  • Three to four years
Contract with learner
  • Formal Learnership Agreement is signed by the learner, Lead Employer and Lead Training Provider
  • Contract is signed between the apprentice and a single employer for the duration of the Apprenticeship
  • Designed to meet legally specified criteria for NQF- alignment, e.g. it is portable and serves as a building block for further learning
  • SAQA-registered and nationally recognized by employers and training institutions
  • builds occupation-specific skills and develops generic (critical cross-field) competencies, which are relevant in all work contexts
  • The certificate issued is trade –specific, making portability difficult
  • Qualifications enjoy wide national and international recognition in respect of the specific trade
  • The qualification is not necessarily recognized by training institutions as a stepping-stone towards further learning
Credit for outcomes achieved
  • Learners are awarded credits for the outcomes successfully achieved, even if they do not complete the Learnership
  • No formal recognition for learning outcomes achieved if apprentices don’t complete the Apprenticeship
Curriculum and learning programme
  • Jointly planned by relevant stakeholders
  • The interrelationship between and integration of workplace and institutional learning is formally structured into the learning programme
  • Integration and interrelationship between institutional and workplace learning is not formally structured. The link between the two learning components does not always happen
Institutional learning component
  • Delivered by a wide spectrum of training institutions
  • Contextualised to the specific needs of the occupation for which the Learnership is designed
  • Delivered by colleges
  • Customised to the needs of the specific trade
Work-based learning component
  • Learner gains a broad spectrum of work experience
  • Learner’s work-based experience is restricted to the work context of a single employer
Purpose of learning
  • Promotes access to employment, as well as further education and training opportunities in the field of the Learnership, as well as in other fields
  • Aimed at developing trade-specific skills and consolidating the worker’s ability in that trade
Role of the learner
  • Primarily that of a learner for the duration of the Learnership
  • Primary role is that of an apprentice, who is in employment
Approval/ registration
  • Must be approved by the appropriate SETA, which submits it for registration to the Department of Labour
  • Approved under the Manpower Training Act of 1981
  • Final judgement of competence by workplace and training providers
  • Learners’ competence is assessed through trade tests conducted by institutions accredited under the Manpower Training Act, such as COTT
Employment after concluding the learning programme
  • Employment is not guaranteed, but the Learnership also prepares the learners for employability outside full-time employment with an employer
  • Employment is not guaranteed, although employers take on apprentices with a view to keeping them as permanent employees after successful completion of the Apprenticeship

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