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What happens to learners when they are left in the lurch by the organisation meant to help them?

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Picture: Supplied / ANA – Scores of students are being denied the opportunity to work in the sector dealing with long-term insurance, short-term insurance, life insurance, insurance and pension funding, risk management, unit trusts, administration of health insurance, funeral insurance, reinsurance, and ancillary and intermediary services because the Inseta has failed to issue their certificates, with some waiting since 2020.

By Edwin Naidu

In a major blow for transformation, hundreds of students who have completed learnerships for critical skills in the insurance sector have been denied their accreditation certificates from the Insurance Sector Education and Training Authority (Inseta).

As a result, they cannot work in the insurance industry and up to two years of training may have been in vain.

Scores of students are being denied the opportunity to work in the sector dealing with long-term insurance, short-term insurance, life insurance, insurance and pension funding, risk management, unit trusts, administration of health insurance, funeral insurance, reinsurance, and ancillary and intermediary services. Some have been awaiting their certificates since 2020.

Carol Mentz, a learner, asked the Inseta to conduct quality assurance and issue her with a certificate. It was a requirement for her job application at Hyundai, the South Korean car manufacturer. Unfortunately, due to not receiving the certification, she lost her job. In emails, she pleaded with the Inseta to help load the accreditation onto the system so that she could work. It never happened.

Learner Craig McLachlan has been awaiting his certificate since 2022. He urgently needed to show proof of his qualifications to his employer. The learner’s commission was stopped because of the non-certification.

Another learner, Vuyolwethu Malamlela, was fortunate. He was fired because he did not have his accreditation. However, following extensive interventions from his training institution, he was reinstated after receiving the certification.

At least 192 students who have completed the skills training programme are awaiting accreditation for 2023. It has been estimated that another 555 have not been accredited since 2020 because the data may have been lost or mysteriously disappeared. In another twist, some students may have received their certification without putting in the hours.

The Inseta’s inaction on certificates means that instead of helping students, it is throwing them out into the street.

The students are in the crossfire involving the Inseta and the respected skills development provider, the

Graduate Institute of Financial Sciences (GIFS), through whom hundreds of students have undergone training.

The penny dropped when GIFS complained to the public protector about alleged corruption, inefficiencies and operational matters of concern related to the management of students’ accreditation. The Inseta maintained an uncompromising attitude, going to the extent of axing GIFS, which has been involved in the industry for almost two decades. Whistle-blowers are not protected in South Africa.

While GIFS says it wants to prevent the Inseta from being “captured”, avoiding a long-term collapse of the sector, the students are suffering.

It also begs the question, what is the Inseta doing to honour its mandate to “grow the pool and quality of critical and scarce skills within the insurance sector” when hundreds of students are left in limbo?

This conduct occurs against a backdrop of corporations contributing massively to the Skills Development Levy.

Yet, annually under the Inseta’s watch, learnership funding has been cut – so much for giving youth in the country a chance. It has emerged that employers who question the reduced funding and the Inseta’s poor service delivery are victimised or, like in the GIFS case, have their funding cut.

On October 17 last year, GIFS asked the public protector to intervene, expressing concern that the Inseta was riddled with corruption. Despite being framed as a neutral regulatory body, GIFS uncovered evidence that the Inseta deliberately streams prospective learners to one favoured learning institution whose educational practices have been questioned. The head of this rival training body favoured by the Inseta labels it “a frivolous competitor making claims”. The public protector takes it seriously enough to warrant a probe.

Ironically, GIFS’ whistle-blowing has resulted in the Inseta launching a public campaign to discredit it and put it out of business despite the educational institution’s crucial role in training most of South Africa’s insurance professionals.

When the institute closed for the end-of-year holiday on December 14 last year, the Inseta sent GIFS a letter at 5.38pm informing it of its immediate de-accreditation as a Skills Development Provider. They warned other service providers not to work with them – or face the music.

GIFS programmes form part of the National Qualifications Framework and were approved by the South African Qualifications Authority. They’re experts when it comes to skills development in the country. In addition, the Inseta itself had awarded GIFS full accreditation status up to June 2024 in line with its practice of awarding certification annually.

So, GIFS turned to the courts for help. In an urgent High Court interdict application on January 4 this year, GIFS’ legal counsel accused the Inseta of corporate bullying and victimisation. They argued that the Inseta’s withdrawal of GIFS’ accreditation was based on a GIFS fraud investigation report compiled just over two years ago, now under review in the courts.

GIFS maintains the report is fraught with trumped-up allegations, overt bias, glaring irregularities and multiple procedural flaws. It has only held off on its legal review as the Inseta renewed its accreditation after the report was finalised in 2021.

But the court ordered the Inseta to reinstate GIFS’ full certification within 24 hours; withdraw all unlawful notifications it had distributed to industry stakeholders informing them of GIFS’ de-accreditation; reassure the public on its website and via email of the complete restoration of GIFS’ accreditation and pay the costs of GIFS’ legal counsel.

The Inseta has ignored the court order. CEO Gugu Mkhize dismissed questions about the case and the complaint before the public protector. That is how bullies operate. They are going to appeal and waste taxpayers’ money while learners are left in the lurch.

With the minister deflecting a scandal and the lack of delivery from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), one can understand his attention is elsewhere. But what about the Quality Council for Trade and Occupations (Qcto) doing its job and holding the Inseta accountable for its delay in issuing certification that jeopardises the very young people who need the piece of paper they worked hard for?

The silent Qcto is responsible for quality assurance and the oversight of the design, accreditation, implementation, assessment and certification of occupational qualifications, part-qualifications and skills programmes. Why look the other way?

The Inseta’s belligerence now means that students without proof of their qualifications risk losing their livelihoods. Is that how we look after learners?

Edwin Naidu is a communications professional and Editor of Inside Education.