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Organisations are increasingly recognising that their human capital is fast becoming their only truly competitive advantage.

There is however a lack of skilled graduates who can join the workforce. South Africa's employment rate continues to be a concern for the sustainability and growth of our economy.

Over the past 12 years our unemployment rate has averaged 25%, with changes only in 2003 and 2008, and figures settling at 31% and 22% respectively*.

Compared to the pass rate of 67.8% in 2010, out of the 496 090 Grade 12 pupils who sat for their final Matric exams in 2011, just over 70% of students passed.

Although an increasing pass rate is good news for the country it does pose a different problem namely what happens to these young people once they leave school and what options are available to them.

Learnerships present an effective mechanism to provide matriculants with the necessary skills to be able to contribute meaningfully to the world of work whilst providing organisations with a source of young talent.

Building on an education legacy which spans more than 40 years, Liberty is an organisation which has embraced this concept. The Liberty Learnership programme, which is one of the largest in the country, takes in 120 graduates per year and has had a staggering 95% completion rate since inception.

Over 705 learners have been through the programme with an impressive 672 students graduating.

"Each year we see a wave of Matriculants graduating but with no means to progress beyond grade 12. Essentially, this means that a number of young South Africans remain unskilled with very little or no chance of being employed," says Liesel Dentlinger Divisional Director for Human Resources at Liberty.

"As part of the solution to this challenge, companies need to own and support initiatives which are able to make tangible, positive differences to the lives of young people. Now in its ninth year, the Liberty Learnership Programme seeks to bridge the skills gap," Dentlinger adds.

Liberty's Learnership Programme, which is linked to qualifications registered with the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA), is a multi-faceted programme used primarily as a tool to help deal with the country's skills shortage; assist the business with skills development, whilst also providing youth with an opportunity for employment.

Dentlinger goes onto explain, "One of the critical success factors for a learnership programme is to ensure that it is sustainable and that graduates are part of a programme that builds the skillset needed by the organisation concerned."

"We have seen the benefits of tying our learnership programme to our people strategy as it has provided us with a source of young talent for the organisation."

"We see it as our responsibility as a leading South African company to play a role in guiding young people and empowering them to take ownership of their futures through education and skills development."

"Through our learnership programme we have employed 421 graduates out of the 672 graduates and provided the rest with the skills necessary to participate in South Africa's economy."

Liberty's Learnership Programme is targeted at young people from previously disadvantaged backgrounds and those who do not have the means to obtain a tertiary qualification. It is open to applicants between the ages of 18 - 30 years and people living with a disability are also encouraged to apply.

The Liberty Learnership Programme is most suitable to students who have passed Maths and English and who have an aspiration to pursue a career within financial services.

During the programme students will be mentored by a dedicated team which supports learners from recruitment right through to graduation.

Their tuition is provided through Liberty's long-standing partnership with Boston City Campus & Business College with a focus on: Wealth Management; Contact Centre Operation; Long Term Insurance; Business Administration; Human Resources Management and Marketing Management.

Applications are open for the 2013 Learnership - Matriculants are encouraged to visit Liberty's website and apply before 31 August 2012.

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