Internships: shaping our future now

Rotaractors are members of a Rotaract Club. A Rotaract Club is an association of young people aged between 18 and 30 years who want to make a positive difference in their communities and promote international understanding. They can be students or young professionals. A Rotaract club is part of the Rotary International and is sponsored by a Rotary Club that appoints a Rotarian to act a guide for each club (Guide Rotarian).

Rotaractors are members of a Rotaract Club. A Rotaract Club is an association of young people aged between 18 and 30 years who want to make a positive difference in their communities and promote international understanding.

They can be students or young professionals. A Rotaract club is part of the Rotary International and is sponsored by a Rotary Club that appoints a Rotarian to act a guide for each club (Guide Rotarian).

A Rotary Club is an association of business and professional leaders who want to give back to the society. Its motto is service above self.

The main difference between these two organisations is that Rotary concentrates on service per se, Rotaract focuses on leadership and professional development with a view to service.

There are three clubs in Rwanda; At Kigali institute of Education (KIE) and School of Finance and Banking (SFB) and Rotaract Club de Kigali which is composed of young professionals, they meet at Gorillas Hotel in Kiyovu.

It is against this background that on Thursday, July 14th 2011, Dr. Marty Levitt, a history professor from Temple College, US and a Fellow of the American Philosophical Society spoke to Rotaractors at SFB about internships. It was a lovely presentation.

Internships; the placements that students go through is the vocational part of their training in their fields of specialisation. It has three main players.

The mentor (professional who guides the intern), the mentee (the intern or novice) and the co-coordinator (the professor).

This apprenticeship is an important component of training of learning for everyone both in the short and long run.

For the mentor, it is a source of cheap labour as the mentee should do entry level jobs for the period they are there and the mentor will have the satisfaction of teaching their profession while providing the guidance.

The mentee is also a potential employee going through the most cost effective and insightful interview process. The mentee, on the other hand gets to be in a work situation where they get practical experience of doing what they study.

The co-coordinator is able to transition the student from theory to practice and gets to know if the theories s/he teaches are applicable to the real world.

For these benefits to be realised there should be a clear understanding of what the duties of the mentee should be beforehand.

The duties should be professional akin to what is expected of an entry level professional.

It is manifestly unfair and quite unproductive (even for the concerned company) to take a young university student on internship as the new company messenger and tea girl.

On the other hand, the intern should be qualified for the internship position and should treat the internship interview as a first job interview, report on time and work diligently. Subsequently, there should clear evaluation standards.

This should be based on written work, progress, interpersonal skills (interrelation with other employees), ability to work independently, comments from mentors and supervisors and student’s written paper on her/his achievements during the internships.

Approach to a successful internship should be entrepreneurial. For example, a student who walks into a company and asks if their professor/ institution can contact them for internship shows creativity and initiative.

Once there, the student should complete their assignment given to them on time and on budget. They should also be ‘all-rounders’ and not ‘over specialise’ because the fact is that at that stage of a student’s life, s/he might not have a crystallised career path in their minds and is still exploring what s/he wants to do.

Internships should ideally be conducted when the students are still in school not after graduation. This is when it is most beneficial because it is then effectively part of the learning process and not the learn-first-and-do later approach where it is difficult to correct learning mistakes and any other mismatches between theory and practice that are necessary for relevance of our education. (Remember the common phrase ‘half baked’ graduates?).

The issue of internships is one we need to consider very seriously as it directly shapes our future as a people.

Sam Kebongo is a Director at Serian Ltd that provides skills and business advisory services consultancy. He also teaches entrepreneurship at Rwanda Tourism University College.

sam.kebongo@gmail.com