More needs to be done to improve the effectivenes of Internship Programmes

Findings of a study on the implementation of internship programmes in South Africa has revealed that more needs to be done to improve the effectiveness of internship programmes towards preparing graduates for absorption into the labour market. The findings were unveiled by the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) and the South African Graduates Development Agency (SAGDA) during a media briefing in Sandton today.
Internships have for years been positioned as an important work exposure method and a temporary employment relief intervention, particularly for young graduates.
The study which was commissioned by the NYDA and SADGA supported by the Education, Training and Development Practice SETA as well as the Manufacturing, Engineering and related Services SETA reveals that while there has been some level of success with implementing internship programmes, more needs to be done to ensure effectiveness.
Commissioned between October 2012 to October 2013 the report provides insights by investigating the activities and analysing the experiences of the three role players involved in the roll out of Internships, namely the interns, the institutions that produce them and the employers that provide the internships. The outcomes of the report comes in the wake of rising unemployment levels particularly among the youth.
Whilst unemployment statistics show that unemployment is significantly lower amongst those who have higher education qualifications, graduates unemployment is also on the increase. Even though there are no official statistics on graduates unemployment, estimates indicate that it is high, estimated between 300 000 and 600 000. Amongst interventions proposed to deal with graduates unemployment is work exposure and thus internships become an area of interest for those interested in finding sustainable solutions for increasing employment like the NYDA.
The study raises questions about the efficiency of the existing mechanisms in the three stages of implementing and managing successful internships: getting into the internship, preparedness for the internship and settling into the internship. It also scrutinises how these are monitored.
It highlights challenges with interns not being provided with adequate opportunities to learn – this happens because some interns mainly do general administrative work as opposed to work that will enhance their skills and future employability prospects. However, it is encouraging that 69.5 % of those who participated in the study felt more than 50% of their work activities were aligned with their qualifications.
Whilst 64% of interns who participated in the study reported that they were provided with job descriptions, the job descriptions were not always implemented as envisaged. This could interfere with a structured and systematic way of participating in the internship programmes which is desirable.
Another element is the discrimination of interns by permanent employees which the study indicates that in some cases permanent employees were not supportive to interns as they felt threated by the interns.  According to the study not much is done in internship programmes to expose interns to entrepreneurial opportunities with only about 31% of those who participated in the study indicated that they were exposed to some form of entrepreneurship training or opportunities.
“Entrepreneurship has a great potential to increase youth economic participation and therefore the NYDA believes that entrepreneurship should be factored into internship programmes so that interns also have a choice of self-employment upon completion of the internship. However, it is acknowledged that factoring entrepreneurship will not be easy given that internships are mainly work experience programmes and this is how employers view them,” says NYDA Chairperson Yershen Pillay.
The absorption rate into the labour market of those who have undergone internship was also low with 42% of those who completed internship programmes still unemployed. “This is worrisome and as South Africans we need to interrogate the reasons for low absorption rates further,” says Pillay.
The study found that, internship provided the interns with an opportunity to decide what sort of work fields and types of work they really were interested in pursuing. It provides interns with an opportunity to know their strengths, weaknesses and their interests. This is important in that people are likely to be more productive when they do what they want to do. This is also important in the light of limited career guidance programmes in South Africa
The duration of internship was also found to be short in most cases with internships lasting for twelve months, though there are a few exceptions. Most of the respondents in the study found twelve months to be inadequate. The study therefore recommends that the internship duration be increased to twenty four months. Trained and passionate mentors are important for the success of an internship programme. The implication of this finding in the study is that assigning mentors for interns should not be arbitrary but a well thought through decision and a systematic process. The absence of a framework to guide the offering of stipends is also a worrying factor according to the findings of the study where it identifies a potential for exploitation of interns if this area remains unregulated and only left to host organisations. These findings have relevance for all organisations involved in the employment of young people, particularly organisations that are currently implementing or planning to implement Internship programmes.  “The study is the first of its kind and seeks to help provide stronger bridges for the youth in the transit from school to the workplace,” concludes Pillay.

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