Internship: Why entrepreneurial skills should be a priority

Contrary to many youth who seek internship opportunities with the aim of landing on good jobs with the host organisations, Jesse Rayson Shyaka says he looked for an internship place hoping to garner the experience to start his own business.
University students attend a career guidance session. Organisations should provide diverse training to interns to enable them fit in the labour market.  (Lydia Atieno)
University students attend a career guidance session. Organisations should provide diverse training to interns to enable them fit in the labour market. (Lydia Atieno)

Contrary to many youth who seek internship opportunities with the aim of landing on good jobs with the host organisations, Jesse Rayson Shyaka says he looked for an internship place hoping to garner the experience to start his own business.

A third year student at Kigali Independent University (ULK), Shyaka says his passion since childhood has always been to inspire other people, and he knew the only way he could achieve that was to be an entrepreneur.

Although he did sciences in high school, he decided to pursue international relations to best position himself for his dream career.

“In my first year, I did voluntary work with Early Grade Reading Assessment, a sister organisation with USAID-Rwanda, not to get money or experience to use in other companies as an employee, but to get experience, mentorship and knowledge on how to start my own initiative,” he says.

From there, Shyaka and his colleague, James Turatsinze, also a student, managed to come up with a business initiative called Career Guidance and Communication, to offer guidance and mentoring to students both in lower and higher learning institutions.

“Although my dream was mentoring the youth, this wouldn’t have been so without the skills I acquired as an intern,” he says.

Shyaka, who is currently an internship at All Trust Consult Ltd, a company that supports young entrepreneurs, says he has seen many youth change and pursue their dreams, thanks to his initiative.

To help fresh graduates and students like Shyaka who are business-oriented and whose motive is to get skills on how to be self-employed, experts say it’s imperative for companies and organisations to put emphasis on entrepreneurial skills if youth are going to be competitive when they leave school.

Why companies should provide entrepreneurial  skills

The World Economic Forum recently launched ‘The Skills Initiative’ out of a realisation that there needs to be a sustainable solution to the unemployment problem on the African continent.

According to Enock Nkulanga, the national director, African Children’s Mission, these are some of the initiatives that need to be decentralised to every country and highly funded to develop and equip young people who are key to sustaining Africa’s development gains.

“This involves young people who seek internship in companies and organisations that serve as growth centres for intelligent minds on the African continent,” he says.

He says that it’s important for companies with an arm of mentorship for start-ups or entrepreneurs, to support interns specifically in their area of passion or where they want to establish their project.

Nkulanga adds that companies can as well do one-on-one mentorship, by identifying professionals in the company who can guide an intern on a specific idea. This, however, starts with having clarity about what the intern wants to do.

Frank Rubaduka, the chief executive, All Trust Consult Ltd Rwanda, says as an employer, providing a flexible environment to those seeking internship opportunities is important because that’s  where they are supposed to get to learn a lot, including how to create their own businesses.

Otherwise if they make their systems unfriendly and less supportive, he says, then interns will not gain much, which threatens the long-term projections for the country’s development agenda.

“They should create a nurturing environment in their offices that offers a variety of skills these students are interested in. By doing so, they will be giving them a platform for them to be all-round citizens with ability to either create jobs or gain the experience need to make it in the job market,” he says.

Another important aspect companies should do, Rubaduka says, is capacity building.

“They should as well consider providing a favourable environment for interns to participate in decision-making,” he says.

Louis-Antoine Muhire, founder and managing director of Markets Merger Ltd, is of the view that although it’s hard to find companies that offer internship with a very specific purpose, companies should make interns understand that they are in to learn so they can be able to make it in life, either on their own or while working in certain organisations.

“At our company, for instance, we refer to employees as trainees, and this helps us to encourage them to self-learn and be curious about everything happening in the enterprise,” he says.

Muhire points out that employment centres should be at the forefront in sending persons into real enterprises after proper training on entrepreneurship.

“It’s unfortunate to see how many young graduates are joining the labour market with zero professional experience, leave alone those who want to venture into their own businesses,” he says.

Muhire adds that, if possible, it should be mandatory for companies to have a permanent per cent of their staff as internees joining early, for instance, in their first year of university. This can help contribute to having a capable workforce at the time of exit from university, thus helping the country to fast-track its agenda of becoming a middle economy by 2030, he says.

Nkulanga, however, emphasises that those interns who have aspirations of creating jobs should intern with start-up incubators or join business accelerator programmes.

He also says companies should be in a position to offer hands-on skills training for the interns to the extent of paying for their personal development, such as attending an event or course offering an opportunity to develop a specific skills set.

For instance, Nkulanga says at his organisation, they have allowed interns to attend several summits on leadership to enhance their administrative skills.

“Allowing them to play a specific role and giving them a chance to run office as support staff gives them an opportunity to learn management and inter-personal skills that they can later use to manage their own business ventures,” he says.

Challenges

According to Edward Kalisa, one of the founders of Arch Consultant Ltd, a local engineering company, the major challenge in skilling interns is lack of enough start-up incubators or business ideas accelerator programmes.

However, he notes that even the few available follow rigorous application and selection processes, which greatly limit the number of young people exposed to knowledge and skills training.

“We need more young people exposed to knowledge and skills training. This can be achieved by having more meet-ups for likeminded young people,” he says.

Nkulanga says Africa is the youngest continent with almost 80 per cent of its population under the age of 35.

“These young people are in their most critical formative years. These include fresh graduates from universities with rich ideas, including being entrepreneurs and growing the economic promise of the African continent. Sadly, most of the time they become disappointed when their aspirations and potential don’t pay off in the short-term. More entrepreneurship-based internships would go a long way in addressing this challenge,” he observes.

Muhire notes that, because of lack of mentorship and enough knowledge on how to run a  business, it’s even hard for employers to hire fresh graduates for their companies, which worsens the challenge.

The ministry’s take

Jerome Gasana, the director-general of the Workforce Development Authority (WDA), says companies should provide industrial-based training for all the internees, adding that if this is made mandatory, the country will be able to provide capacity building for the future employees.

“If interns are not supported, it means we will not have well-trained future employees. Companies should not look at this as a burden, but a contribution to the development of the country,” he says.

Gasana adds that this should be part of every company’s culture.

“What has been lacking is having dedicated personnel to train and give mentor young people. But internees should be willing to be trained,” he adds.

Gasana further noted that skilling interns is part of dealing with the problem of unemployment as it produces well-trained personnel.

“If the Government, for instance, invests in skills training, they are assured that after a certain period of time this kind of programme can contribute to curbing the unemployment since it will churn out entrepreneurs,” he says.

 

Students share their views

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Modeste Ndangamira, high school graduate

The main reason why graduates volunteer to work as interns is to gain certain experience. Sadly, this doesn’t usually happen because they are not given the opportunity to explore and get access to relevant information by most companies. Employers should trust internees and help them explore a little more so that they can be useful when they leave.

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Fiona Uwamariya, university student

I think the Government should provide internship opportunities to all graduates depending on what they want to pursue after school. Sometimes getting even where to volunteer as an intern is hectic. There should be deliberate efforts to compel companies to take us in so that we get where to practice our skills as we prepare to face the labour market.

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Susan Tona, graduate from Gashora Girls School

Doing my internship after high school is something that I am proud of. I believe by the time I complete university I will have what it takes to fit in this competitive world. As a business-oriented person, I believe this is a stepping stone towards fulfilling my dream.

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Emmy Kwizera, university student

Internship is important because it provides graduates the skills they need to excel in the workplace. Apart from that, it’s through internships that one can build confidence and learn how to handle clients while working for themselves.

 

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