You already have the answer to the puzzle. All companies need to do is to deliberately put in place an internship policy that provides unique opportunities for learning outside of academic settings. In so doing, interns will be exposed to real life work environments that will help them learn goal-specific skills required for success in their fields of study. Put in other words, the internship program should be deliberately designed to provide interns with a meaningful learning experience applicable to their fields of study. This requires having structured assignments coupled with appropriate supervision, mentorship, evaluation, and feedback mechanisms. To that effect, learning objectives will be developed for each. It is beneficial to have clear job duties that identify the learning objectives or a defined project scope that demonstrates how the learning objectives for each individual will be met.
Let me draw attention to a serious transgression that some companies commit in the name of having interns. They engage interns to cover up for employees. Say for example, perhaps a vacancy arises in the company or there happens to be an overload of work in a particular department. Instead of hiring staff to do the work, some engage ‘interns’, and pay them an allowance which may even be below the minimum wage in order to ‘save money’. This is cleverly disguising casualisation as internship which is a subtle form of exploitation of the interns. Unfortunately, this is a common practice in Zambia. Many so-called internship programmes are in fact casualisation programmes. This is in total contravention of the Ubuntu spirit.
In some instances, some companies decide to hire graduates for a specified period of time and decide to call them ‘interns’ and yet the company does not have an internship policy for this. As a result, the so-called interns have no proper framework to help them develop and grow in their fields of study. This is not an internship programme because the objectives are seldom to help graduates get exposed to the real workplace.
What characteristics should an internship programme that is driven by the Ubuntu philosophy have? In the features outlined below, the use of the word ‘MUST’ is deliberate for the sake of emphasis and for the avoidance of doubt.
1. It must be in writing with a clearly outlined purpose and objectives
2. It must be deliberate, not accidental, designed to provide an opportunity for interns to gain hands-on experience in their fields of study
3. It must provide for screening and assessment as part of the selection criteria
4. It must not result in the displacement of regular employees or impair existing contracts of employment;
5. It must not be used to engage a supplemental workforce with the goal of saving costs
6. It must provide for mentor-intern pairing
7. It must have a reasonable stipend paid to the interns
8. It must have monitoring and evaluation mechanisms
An internship programme that is driven by the Ubuntu philosophy will come with an abundance of benefits. What are some of them?
1. Employers will be giving back to the community and will be participating in raising the child of the village.
2. Interns will gain hands-on work experience in their fields of study and hence enhance their employability since their learning curve will be shorter than usual.
3. It will contribute to a more holistic approach to education.
4. The Ubuntu driven internship program is a year-round recruiting tool that can create an ongoing pipeline of future full-time employees.
5. It will help to cut down on the drain on company resources from recruiting and hiring by cultivating a pool of star interns to fill up positions as they open up.
6. It will cut down on costs associated with bad hires as it gives enough time to assess potential future employees during the internship period.
7. It will enhance the employer brand. The Ubuntu philosophy implies that a company can only increase it’s good fortune by sharing with members of the society and thereby also enhancing its status within the local communities.
8. Interns can bring new perspectives to the company that can help it forge ahead
The solution for the shortage of the right talent to take our businesses to take the next level is right in front of our eyes. As a matter of fact, it has been in front of us all along, only that we perhaps have focused too much on foreign grown solutions rather than on home grown ones.
Desmond Tutu put it so well when he said: “Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality - Ubuntu - you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity”. Ubuntu is truly worth considering.
The past few years, though, have drastically changed the Zambian society. Over the years, the concept of the ‘village’ and ‘Ubuntu’ have greatly diminished compared to the past when there were strong extended family bonds. The strong influence of the west of focusing more on the nuclear family has negatively affected even the way we conduct business in the workplace. Increased mobility and the move from rural living to urban lifestyles has meant that extended families are often fractured and live further and further apart, thereby rendering the village concept ineffectual. And social media has not helped the situation as it has redefined “connection”, leaving many people staring at screens more than engaging with the people around them.
The impact of this is apparent on the children of the village- the college and university graduates. They have been left out in the cold with no ‘relatives’ to help them figure out the world of work. But not all hope is lost. The adage “it takes a village to raise a child” absolutely still holds true. All we need is for all well-meaning members of society in influential positions to take it upon themselves as members of the village, as members of the community to ensure they put in place internship policies in their workplaces so that graduates can be raised to become valuable talent in the work space and not miss out on crucial learning experiences and the much needed support systems that will help them to become the talent companies need.
Remember, we are all villagers belonging to one village that God has given us. We belong to one another. We, therefore, owe it to ourselves to help raise responsible and productive young talent in our society so that they can pick up from where we shall discontinue. Another Zambian proverb says: “Imiti ikula e mpanga”, which when translated means: “Today's Bush is Tomorrow’s Forest. However, the bush has to be nurtured for it to grow into a forest. Be the change you want to see. Not only should you infuse an internship programme into your company policies but infuse one that is guided by UBUNTU.