Internships are important for young professionals to gain valuable work experience or satisfy requirements to complete a qualification. It is therefore important to understand exactly what internships are, their purpose and how to find them in South Africa.
Stellenbosch University defines an internship as a planned, structured and managed programme that provides work experience for an agreed period of time.
In an ideal world, interns will spend their days working on tasks relevant to their chosen career path, learning about the industry they will work in as well as making important industry connections. In some cases, internships also lead to offers of full-time employment.
Youth Capital Project Manager Kristal Duncan-Williams says it’s important for individuals to sign a contract before starting an internship. This is because contracts protect both interns and employers and establish a clear expectation of the work interns are expected to complete, their responsibilities and their working hours.
Once they sign the contract and have a clear understanding of their responsibilities, youth should do their best to learn as much as possible in their field of work. They should pay attention to gaining the soft skills required to do their jobs as well as build their social capital and build a network of contacts.
Internships should ideally set them up for their next employment opportunity with strong reference letters, transferable skills including meeting and email etiquette and other practical skills.
Duncan-Williams stresses that interns should also prepare for the end of the internship. This preparation must be done in advance and not close to the end of your internship.
They add that when companies offer internships to individuals, they have the opportunity to shape and guide a young professional’s life. Their experience working as an intern at a company can set them up well or poorly for the rest of their lives.
Show up for the young person the way you would have wanted someone to show up for you in that very first work experience that you had
Internships are not meant to last forever. By keeping an individual in an internship for prolonged periods, companies miss the point of an internship. Internships are meant to be a springboard for individuals and set them up for their next opportunity and companies should provide exposure and work experience to different young people.
Some tertiary education students are required to complete an internship to complete their qualifications. Universities of technology and colleges in South Africa require what is called experiential learning or Work Integrated Learning(WIL).
John Bulani is the WIL Coordinator in the Informatics and Design faculty at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT). He explains that internships allow students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in their chosen career and put the theory students spent hours learning into practice.
Despite this, some companies choose to offer unpaid internships. While students can still gain the soft and transferable skills internships offer when they undertake an unpaid opportunity, many young people cannot afford to take these opportunities.
Duncan-Williams says it would be impossible for many underprivileged individuals to take unpaid internships. Youth may then lose out on the valuable experience internships offer as the costs associated with travelling to work and the tools needed to do their jobs cannot be absorbed by poor households.
They explain that without a stipend, these internship opportunities can only be accessed by individuals who come from privileged backgrounds and whose parents can afford to support them.
Bulani believes interns should get paid. While this may not always be possible, interns should at least receive some financial support to cover transportation costs and pay for the tools and equipment needed to do their jobs.
I, for one, think organisations at least must play a bit of a role to compensate students for their contributions, because it’s true that students play a critical role which could be played by someone who is employed on a full term basis for getting paid.
The Basic Conditions of Employment Act sets out that any person who works for or provides a service to another person is presumed to be an employee. The act applies to all employees and employers except members of the State Security Agency or unpaid volunteers working for an organisation with a charitable purpose.
The Act seeks to ensure rights to both employers and employees. While the legislation is meant to protect both employers and employees, both parties must understand the legislation.
Duncan-Williams says there is not a need for more legislation in the South Africa but a better understanding of the existing legislation. This will ensure that if any right is being infringed upon, the impacted party can take steps to address the issue.
Youth capital is an advocacy campaign that is youth-centred, evidence-based and solutions driven around tackling the issues that young people encounter in South Africa on their journey to find economic productivity.
There are several internship opportunities in South Africa that can be found online
My name is John U., I’m the founding Editor at Demzyportal and an SEO Expert. I make sure every blog post published on Demzyportal is EPIC.