Internships can offer graduates much- needed work experience, but don’t go into an internship uninformed, here’s what to consider before becoming an intern.
1. Why intern? The true purpose of an internship is to give new graduates work experience and ensure that they acquire skills that are valuable to the labour market, but it can be equally beneficial for employers. Internships can form part of a company’s initiative to build a skills base “in this way, internships are beneficial to both the companies and interns,” says Wongiwe Ludidi an advisor in the human resources development sector of Eskom Holdings.
2. Manage expectations. “One of the biggest mistakes an intern makes is having false expectations and lofty ideas,” says employment psychologist Liz Andrews. “Interns often think they will walk into a work place and within a month they will be running the show. It’s vital to stay grounded, open minded and receptive to learning. The company on the other hand also has to do their bit.”
3. Have a positive attitude. When an intern has a positive approach they can excel in their work, which allows them to stand out and be considered for a permanent position.
4. Know that not all internships will be beneficial. Interns can sometimes find themselves becoming the office skivvy. Interns should be able to hit the ground running to get the experience they need to get ahead. They should be given an opportunity to get their hands dirty. Nala Roberts, an office manager in the contract enterprising section of a production company, has seen many interns come and go. “These young people are sent to our division from HR, but we honestly do not know what to do with them or how to help them.” According to Nala, interns literally feel abandoned. Without a plan, the lethargy, apathy and demotivation set in. But from the employers’ side, this is often not intentional.
Zinhle Ngwenya, intern journalist:
“I became a journalist by accident. I was supposed to intern with the fashion editor, but they needed someone who could write and that’s what I ended up doing. I think this may be a blessing in disguise – I’m one of the few people who can actually say they feel competent after an internship.”
Thuli Njapha, electrical engineer in training:
“I was totally open minded when I applied for an internship as a training engineer. I told myself that being exposed to various systems and challenges would assist me in realising what I am good at. I ended up learning so much, because I was positive and enthusiastic about everything I did.”
Buhle Nkosi, chef’s intern:
My time as an intern at a famous hotel in Cape Town was so demeaning. I was forced to clean calamari from the first day to the last – no one bothered to show me anything else. I left vowing to leave the food industry and never go back.
An Employer's insight
Wongiwe Ludidi, an advisor in the HR development sector of Eskom Holdings
1. Can interns become permanent staff members?
Yes and no. Interns can become permanent staff members if there is a vacant position, but they may need to go through a recruitment process to determine if they are ready for the respective position. Sometimes it is not possible. It could be that job positions are limited in the company and perhaps it may not be able to afford a new employee.
2. Do internships count as actual work experience?
When an intern has received the right kind of training in their respective fields, internships definitely count as work experience.
3. What do companies actually aim to achieve by recruiting interns?
The aim of internships is to give people valuable experience that they can use in the outside world if they cannot be absorbed within the company. Some companies aim to impart practical skills to bridge that gap between theory and practice.
4. How should interns behave in working environments?
Interns should be professional. They must be punctual and know the correct language to use with colleagues and superiors. It is also important for them to learn the correct channels for addressing any concerns they may have. It is always important to know how to approach people and challenges appropriately.
Policies on internships
Interns need to know that they are protected and supported by policies, acts and various authorities. The acts include the Skills Development Act and the Skills Development Levies Act. MAPPP-SETA is one of the authorities in the training sector. They offer education and training in the media, advertising and visual arts, performing arts, film and electronic media, cultural heritage, publishing, printing and packaging sectors.
Various other companies have their own specific requirements for interns. The National Prosecuting Authority’s policy, for instance, stipulates that their intern policy aims create opportunities for students to receive in-service training and to gain practical work and experience within the public service functions.