Internships: Why they could be a breakthrough to your dream job

Breaking into the job sector is proving to be one of the biggest hurdles that one has to overcome after years in school. With an education system that is largely theoretical, internship serves to provide learners with the key skills they need to be considered useful in a work situation. Internships basically act as the reality check for anyone transitioning from school to full time employment.
A carpentry student polishing one of his products. Education Times/ Timothy Kisambira.
A carpentry student polishing one of his products. Education Times/ Timothy Kisambira.

Breaking into the job sector is proving to be one of the biggest hurdles that one has to overcome after years in school. With an education system that is largely theoretical, internship serves to provide learners with the key skills they need to be considered useful in a work situation. Internships basically act as the reality check for anyone transitioning from school to full time employment.

It is through internships that learners gain insights of the careers they have been getting ready for by getting placed in a work environment. Though everyone agrees on the importance of internships, it is important to know when to embark on it. When is it best to undertake an internship, length of internship and the kind of duties one should be subjected to during the internship.

“If I studied finance or economics in university, why is it that during internship at a local micro-finance early this year I had to be condemned to just running errands? How much should I learn if I only have two months internship and only doing paper work?” Marie Ntigulirwa wonders. The economics graduate says over the course of internship at a local micro-finance she is not willing to name, she was mostly engaged as the receptionist.  

Jean Nkeshimana who works in a regional NGO says that how much access an organisation can give an intern is tricky since they are only around only for a short while.

“At times you battle with how much access interns should have, if they are say interns in Finance, at one point or the other you have to let them in on your accounting records that are supposed to be handled only by staff. This means that you may only allow them to handle petty cash, record keeping and such small tasks which does not go down well with most of them. ”

Nkeshimana is quick to add that at times interns have an over valuation of themselves with most of them imagining that their academic qualifications are everything they need to perform in an orgainsation.

“I have had experiences with interns for a while now, and have noticed how most of them tend to feel overly qualified and act like they are above the tasks delegated to them. They feel like they ought to join an institution on managerial level and nothing less. “

Nkeshimana urges the interns not to feel like they are being used or doing things below their qualification and instead work their way up by proving they can handle the ‘small’ tasks well. “Once an intern begins to use the terms, ‘this is below me’, they are not open to learning. The small tasks that may seem routine and tedious have a lesson to the interns.  But this should not mean that interns should be used as Tea girls and errand boys. They should be placed in a learning environment.”

What is it that students want from an internship?

Vanessa Umutoni who is set to soon complete her Masters studies at Carnegie Mellon University thinks that by the time the internship is over she should be ready for work in her field of study.

“An internship paves the way for putting all the abstract classroom theories into practice and placing you in a real life work setting. The most amazing internship experiences are those that will prepare you for the work you hope to do after graduating. One where the organisation acknowledges and supports your learning goals while providing an opportunity to develop the skills you need.”

“Think of an internship as a career experiment; that should give you insights on your interests, give you an idea on your strongest points (strengths) and skills that you need to develop to succeed in whatever career paths you will choose. Most importantly you should have the right professional connections at the end of your internship.”

Professor Timothy X Brown a visiting Professor at Carnegie Mellon University says that undergraduate students should walk in with an aim of learning how people work in certain business environments.  “The real value of an internship at the undergraduate level is to give one an exposure of the business environment. How people dress, interact and behave. While on an internship one needs to look around and learn from the environment, you can only do what they ask you to do. It can be a little discouraging but it would be good if one seize’ the opportunity to see people at work and figure out how to get to where they are.”
 
From the employers’ side, they need to have enough space and time to see what these students can do. They need to see if they are bright enough, hardworking and motivated enough. From the employers’ side it can be a way to shop for future employees.” On whether the interns should receive a stipend for their efforts at the firm during the internship, the professor with over 25 years experience says there can be a middle ground where both parties will be content.

“If companies put something into the internship they would be a little motivated to get something from the internship, the middle ground can be achieved through allowances like lunch and transport so the student doesn’t feel like they are being taken advantage of and the company has a little bit of investment.”
Leticia Iguma, a human resource officer at Global Health, a Nongovernmental organisation, advises students not to despise whatever experiences they get from internships including the ones they consider below them.


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Your views on internships


John Charles Onaba, English mentor

Internship is really a good idea though it is abused especially by the employers where these students are placed. Instead of helping them implement what they learn in schools, they are used as office messengers and sometimes they don’t attend to them because they see them as a threat so at the end of the day you find someone wasting his or her time doing internship.

Doreen Ingabire, lawyer

Internship is a good idea though sometimes it depends on the organisation that you go to. I did my internship at the International Justice Mission and it was a good experience because I did a lot of practical work and would also go to court. However many of my colleagues who were placed in other institutions did not learn much and barely gained anything new.

Doreen Ingabire, lawyer

Internship is a good idea though sometimes it depends on the organisation that you go to. I did my internship at the International Justice Mission and it was a good experience because I did a lot of practical work and would also go to court. However many of my colleagues who were placed in other institutions did not learn much and barely gained anything new.

Kairanga Massai, university student

My experience as an intern in the field of journalism was really good; you know you learn a lot from experience and through practice.  However internship is not a good idea for weak students who need constant monitoring because you are unlikely to find a baby sitter in any company that you will be placed. You have to work hard and be aggressive if you are to benefit from this process.

Gloria Umutoni
, parent

I think it is a good idea because it introduces students to the practical bit of what they learnt in theory. It also helps them gain experience as you know there is no institution that teaches experience. So what better option is there for students to gain experience other than internship?

Emmanuel Mbonabucya, Manager

Internship is all about learning and if you know how to strategise and impress your boss then you can be retained at the end. My advice to the students is for them never to take such opportunities for granted and also look beyond just being supervised and writing a report at the end.

“During internships, learners should make every moment a learning moment. There is always something to learn from whatever task they are allocated. Take time to learn things you would consider simple like how organisations work or their policies. These are invaluable lessons that will come in handy later on when you are looking for a job.”

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