"Learnerships - an informal learning experience" : an inquiry into the impact of informal learning on learnerships in the footwear industry.
The Skills Development Act (97 of 1988) introduced a new approach to the development of workrelated skills in South Africa. This Act provided the legal underpinnings for learnerships, which include both structured work experience (Le. a practical component) and instructional learning (i.e. a theory learning component). Learnerships are offered in an accredited workplace environment and culminate in a qualification that is registered on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). Research studies support the view that informal learning accounts for over 75%-90% of the learning that takes place in organizations today. Although the majority of learning that occurs in the workplace is informal, little is, however, known about how such learning is best supported, encouraged and developed in a learnership programme. The impact of informal learning on learnerships must be seen as an essential ingredient for effective workplace skills programmes and the advancement of skills acquisition leading to qualifications and career planning resulting in a highly skilled workforce. This research study was prompted by the perception that the majority of workers in the footwear industry have a low formal educational level and are either non-skilled or semi-skilled, financial sustainability of the footwear industry and global competition. Learnerships are perceived to be a creative vehicle whereby workers are able to acquire basic production and manufacturing skills in the workplace through a Clothing, Textiles, Footwear and Leather (CTFL) learnership programme. This research study explores the factors in an education and training environment that enhance or inhibit informal learning opportunities and how these factors shape or impede informal learning, thus impacting on the performance of learners in a footwear learnership programme. Although no single theoretical framework of informal learning exists, this research study was informed and underpinned by the theoretical models of various experts in the field of informal 7 learning. Using an interpretivist paradigm the researcher opted to study the implementation of learnerships at one accredited training provider in the footwear industry. Data collection instruments provided rich, detailed qualitative data using semi-structured interviews, observations and document analysis within a case study approach. The findings of this study identified a number of overarching factors that enhanced or impeded informal learning in a footwear learnership programme that also impacted on the performance of learners.