A learnership project meant to develop construction skills among 1 100 youth from villages and townships surrounding Polokwane, the capital of Limpopo, has been thrown into disarray following a string of academic and labour irregularities.
Responding to questions from the Mail & Guardian, management of Capricorn TVET College – the Polokwane-based institution that the Construction Sector Education and Training Authority (Ceta) partnered with for the apprenticeship – admitted it suspended training of 400 of the youth because it had enrolled them in unaccredited studies.
Ceta is one of 21 Sector Education and Training Authorities (Setas) the government launched in 2000 to reverse the country’s skills crisis and thereby help address the plight of the 3.4-million 18- to 24-year-olds who are not in employment, education or training.
The R28.8-million Polokwane learnership started in June 2014, and the M&G understands the youngsters were stopped from attending in February this year. This displaced both the apprentices and their trainers from the college.
But discontinuation of the training was just a culmination of many irregularities Capricorn TVET allegedly committed from inception of the learnership.
The youth and trainers told the M&G it was discovered earlier in the project that the college was not accredited for qualifications for which it had registered them.
Furthermore, the R1 500 stipends supposed to be paid to the youth each month were not paid until the third month after the learnership had started.
‘They started giving us problems again’
An apprentice said: “There were problems with stipends even in the first month. We tried to raise the issue with them [management of the college] and they said it would be a process to upload us into their system and therefore be able to pay us the stipends. They asked us to wait for three months, which we did.
“But after receiving the stipend [for just one month] in September they started to give us some problems again. There are people who are travelling. They started skipping classes, which became a very serious problem.”
He said the youth enquired repeatedly about when the college would sort accreditation of the programmes, but they were never given clear response.
Payment of contracted trainers’ salaries was also irregular, as one explained: “It took us six months to get first payment and it came after certain steps, people went to offices of the state from your public protector to your Legal Aid. It came in December, and again in January. So far they have paid for July to November .
“There were questions around the salary itself, in terms of the deductions. What’s worse is that they don’t talk to us. They don’t call us to say this is the problem we’re having. All they do is just keep quiet, and just say we’ll call you back together with your learners. There are a lot of amazing things happening with the college itself.”
Allen Riba, the college’s deputy principal responsible for academics, told the M&G management learnt later in the learnership that programmes involving 400 trainees were not accredited. These qualifications were plumbing, electrical construction, supervision of construction processes and construction contracting.
A college employee who has since been sanctioned misled management and Ceta on accreditation status of the studies, said Riba. “The college did not have accreditation for these qualifications and thus stopped the training pending full accreditation.
“The college discovered this and also realised that the staff member responsible for this training did not inform the college management and Ceta of the training and the college has since stopped this training and taken disciplinary steps against the staff member concerned.”
Riba told the M&G Capricorn has “now secured full accreditation in the said programmes and training will resume on 1 July 2015. All of the learners who started the programme will be accommodated on the training.”
The stipend and salary payment problems emanated from circumstances that made it “difficult for the college to invoice Ceta timeously”, he said.
“The college was under impression that Ceta would pay the monies for training upfront through the tranche payment model … [but] it only pays based on the provision of an invoice and where learners have signed an attendance register and acknowledgement of receipt of learning materials and toolkits. Many of the learners did not come to receive the items.”
But now “all invoices submitted to Ceta to date have been processed and paid” by the entity, said Riba. “The college will process all the outstanding stipends as from Friday 12 June 2015 for final payments to be concluded by Friday 19 June 2015.”
Jabulane Jiyane, head of corporate services at Ceta, said the body is “aware of certain challenges” besetting the Polokwane learnership “and is actively engaging all stakeholders to deal with these challenges”.
He told the M&G they “made aware of the challenges in respect of the training to which your questions relate” last week. “Ceta has since set up a meeting with the college, as well as learners, to assess the concerns and to take immediate remedial action if and where necessary.”