Internship important, its terms needs review


One of the things to consider needs to be the exposure you will get. There are places where interns are only used as free labour and kept away from learning. FILE PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

A few days ago, I had a discussion with a recent university graduate as part of sharing experience of life after school and the options that one has in the legal profession.

This followed a session that our final-year students had organized at the University of Nairobi on the transition to life of work and its implications. I found both sessions illuminating.

The reality is that there are many young people completing university education every year than was the case a decade ago.

This is happening at a time when the economy is facing great strains thus reducing the prospects of securing jobs for these young graduates.

This should concern the entire country. Having spent colossal sums of money to train the future generation, it is important that we focus on how to make their transition to the job market smoother than it currently is.

Internship is one useful avenue for addressing the question. It helps to expose graduates to work life by proving practical exposure and an opportunity to shadow experienced people and learn skills that will make the job transition easy.

In addition, it increases their chances of landing a job, as they get to both hone and expose their talents to potential employers.

In the conversation with the young graduate, concerns were raised about the advertisements to the extent that the internship is free and those who are given the opportunity should expect no pay.

I was shocked when the graduate complained about this statement, arguing that to not pay anything is to ignore the realities on the ground.

To her, while young people are happy to get exposure, they find it difficult to do so for free since they require to travel to and from the place of internship, take a meal and afford some clothing.

My initial reaction was one of horror. Here was a young person, seeking opportunities to join the job market, yet very critical of the structured mechanisms society was putting in place to make this easier.

More so in a society where a lot of job advertisements ask for some years of practical experience, something that the internship would grant them. On further discussions though, I realized that there was a real point being made.

There are many young people who are unable to afford a decent meal during their university days. Upon completion of university, they have no choice but to retreat to their rural villages.

Recalling my days as a student, if I did not get the opportunity to do odd jobs I would not have stayed in Nairobi during holidays and after finishing law studies.

We owe people whose situation resembles mine many years ago a chance to pursue internships too.

Unless we provide a basic stipend, such opportunities will remain only for children whose parents are well off and thus able to afford necessities.

It is only this group who will get accommodation, fare and food from their parents and thus take up the internship opportunities.

This is not to argue that internships should be paid. Far from it. In fact, it is important that young people get socialized into appreciating that these are practical learning opportunities, chances to ease into the job market and an extension of learning.

However, some basic stipend to take care of their facilitation to and from work should be one that the country considers and standardizes.

The Teachers Service Commission internship programme offers a useful benchmark for the country to debate and possibly consider legislating as a basis for regulating all internships in the country.

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