From time to time, I receive a call that will leave me dumbfounded. The phone rings, I answer the call and on the other side, I get something like this: “Eeh Mr Ron this is so and so. I am the HR Director from company so and so. Do you have any opportunities for internship? My son graduated from UNZA two years ago and I want him to get some exposure even as he continues to look for employment. He is just languishing at home, doing nothing”.
Now, when I get a call like this one, I am almost tempted to ask the caller if he or she has in place at their company an internship policy that provides opportunities to young graduates for them to gain hands-on work experience so that they prepare better to quickly start adding value to any company upon being employed.
Sad to say that an interaction with many senior gurus in various companies has revealed that most companies in Zambia do not have internship policies. To a large extent, internships are mostly done on an ad-hoc basis. As a result, since internships are seldom budgeted for, many companies shun them, altogether, because they are considered to be an expense to the company. This became even more pronounced in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic when many physical workplaces were partially closed as some employees had to start working remotely. Some companies were compelled to scale down their operations due to reduced demand for their goods and services. The net effect of this on internships has largely been negative with the few companies that offer such programs resorting to putting them on hold or discontinuing them altogether. However, when its time to recruit, many companies ask for work experience even for entry-level jobs, something of a misnomer, I must say, in my opinion.
The purpose of this writeup is to challenge all influential people, worth their salt, occupying positions that have a direct or indirect impact on human resource matters or decisions at their companies. I am talking about Board Chairpersons, company owners, Chief Executive Officers, Managing Directors, Human Resource Directors, Human Resource Managers, Heads of Finance, etc. My clarion call is that it is time for a renaissance. It is time to go back to our African roots where every child in the village is everyone’s child. It is time to go back to the drawing board and ensure that every company has an internship policy.
An old African proverb says: “It takes a village to raise a child”. This apt proverb summarizes the idea or thought that it takes a dedicated caring community to raise a child. All the adults in the community play a part, in some way, to bring up the child. Irrespective of the child's biological parents, its upbringing belongs to the community. A child does not grow up only in a single home. This school of thought is more about community and collaboration. It's about collective social responsibility. It is about UBUNTU.
UBUNTU is a word coming from a Nguni phrase which says: "I am because we are" or "You are because we are". It encapsulates the moral ideals of sub-Saharan Africa which underscores the importance of communal existence, social awareness and a consciousness that humans owe it to themselves to be responsible not only to themselves but to others around them.
The modern labour market has become heatedly competitive to such an extent that it’s ‘each man (or woman) for himself (or herself) and God for us all’. When a young man or woman graduates from college or university, they are on their own. They have to figure out things on their own without help from the community they belong to. From graduation onwards, it’s trial and error. The graduates have to reinvent the wheel by themselves, as it were. It goes without saying that it’s survival of the fittest out there. Could this be due to the strong influence of the western culture which mostly promotes individualism? One wonders!.
I am a staunch proponent of UBUNTU when it comes to internship. Let me attempt to persuade all well-meaning people of influence in the labour market who are reading this to consider UBUNTU as a vehicle to a more holistic personal development experience for graduates which will ultimately translate into gains, not only for the child of the village (the graduate) but the entire village (the workplace and the nation at large). Let me argue my case and I surely hope that by the time you finish reading this article, it will stir you to action.
It’s my considered view that UBUNTU can be the panacea to two long standing problems in the labour business. These are: (1) Companies find it challenging to find the right talent and (2) Graduates find it challenging to be the suitable talent companies are looking for. So, the million-dollar question is: “How can this gap be bridged? How can we help graduates to be the talent companies are looking for while at the same time help our companies easily find talent among graduates? A million-dollar question deserves a million-dollar answer- UBUNTU.
If all Board members, Chief Executive Officers, Managing Directors, Human Resource Directors, Human Resource Managers, etc, take it upon themselves to help educate the child of the village, nature will take its course. We will end up with graduates who are ready to immediately start adding value to companies while companies will end up with a cheaper pool of talent to draw from whenever they have vacancies. It’s no rocket science. In fact, when you think about it, it seems so obvious and you would wonder why companies are not investing in this. I stand to be corrected but I don’t think I will be far from the truth if I say that it would be cheaper for a company to invest in graduates with demonstrable potential via internship than to go on a wild goose chase trying to hire the right talent from a pond full of graduates that will be required to have work experience which they do not possess but are being asked for. At best, they may possess some unrelated work experience. That may explain why it is commonplace to find people working in fields they did not study. I think a person who studied engineering should work as an engineer. A person who studied chemical engineering should work as a chemical engineer. A person who studied banking should work as a banker. I am sure you get the point. It’s fairly obvious to conclude that that’s why they pursued those fields of study in the first place-so that they can practice them. So their knowledge would be put to good use and would be of greater value to their fields of study than any other field.
If you have read up to this point, right now you might be curious and are wondering how the Ubuntu philosophy can be used to put in place a robust system that will ensure that graduates are not left stranded for years trying to be suitable candidates while companies wage a war for talent where they spend thousands of kwachas gambling to source the right candidates to take up roles in their companies.
(To be continued...)