Learnerships vs Internships: A Side by Side Comparison

Submitted by Suzaan Beneke on Wed, 12/16/2020 - 11:14

Previous work experience has become a common requirement when applying for a new job, even if you’re applying straight out of high school.

It sounds impossible, right? Not exactly.

It may feel like the obvious next step would be to apply for an internship in your chosen field but it’s not the only way to gain some hands-on experience and insider knowledge on how everything works.

At face value, internships and learnerships look like the same thing and - to a degree - they are, but there are also some key differences that we need to look at.

Take a closer look at each.

Entry Requirements


Applicants must:

  • have at least a National Senior Certificate (matric) or NQF 4
  • be older than 16 and younger than 35
  • be employed, although there are learnerships available to unemployed students

Different industries have different entry requirements so its best to ask the employer beforehand.


Applicants must:

  • be between the ages of 18 and 35 years
  • be unemployed and new to the job market
  • have a formal qualification or be in their final year of studies in the relevant field



A learnership requires that you sign a fixed-term employment contract with the company while studying towards your qualification.

Most learnerships can be completed within 12 to 18 months, although it’s not unheard of for some to take two or more years from start to finish.

Once you’ve earned your qualification, the learnership will end.


Interns can take on a full-time or part-time position at a company for a fixed period, usually three to six months and can take place any time of the year

Full-time interns work the same hours as company employees (max 45 hours excl. lunch hours) while part-time interns only work a few days or hours per week.



Learnerships are generally funded by a relevant SETA. Since the cost of learnership depends on the industry and types/levels of qualifications, it's best to reach out to the business or SETA for more information.

There is a specified minimum learner allowance that must be paid to unemployed learners in a learnership. This is not a salary but covers expenses like travel and meals. Again, you should contact the relevant SETA.


Internships can be paid or unpaid positions, but this depends on the industry. Some industries are known for not paying their interns. The idea is that the experience they gain is payment enough, but this is severely frowned upon.

In terms of paid internships, the amount that learners receive depend on the industry, the size of the company and the duration on the internship.

According to an article written by Indeed, the average salary for an Intern in 2020 is R 5 347 per month in South Africa. This is in line with the country’s national minimum wage.


Note that these are only some of the benefits that each position has to offer.


  • Provides access to better job opportunities
  • Offers a fixed-term employment contract during the learnership
  • Improves the learner’s overall work ethic and job performance
  • Offers a stipend to pay for meal and travel expenses
  • Offers hands-on experience
  • Helps to develop hard and soft skills that cannot be taught in school
  • Might result in a long term position at the company after the contract has ended.
  • Helps you to decide on an industry speciality
  • Builds confidence in your ability to do your job, and
  • It looks great on your CV


  • Offers valuable work experience
  • Helps learners explore the chosen career path in more detail
  • Enjoy sensible working hours
  • A possible reference or letter of recommendation at the end of the internship
  • Helps learners to develop new skills or refine existing ones
  • Helps to build relationships with others in the field
  • Could result in a permanent position at the end of the internship
  • Helps to build confidence
  • Looks great on your CV

The Bottom Line

As you can see, there are several differences between internships and learnerships. Making a final decision depends entirely on your personal preferences.

When it’s time to choose one, come back to this article before making your decision.