The dictionary defines internship as an official or formal programme to provide practical experience for beginners in an occupation or profession. Human Resource (HR) specialist Efrance Musimenta Mbagaya says many interns do not get what they ought to get from internship, largely owing to the poor structure and follow-up process both at their institutions of learning and the work places where they do the internship.
“Both students and the institutions of learning consider internship as a process to graduation so they do not pay attention to what a student ought to get out of the internship placement,” Musimenta explains.
She says an intern needs to appreciate the need for them to undertake internship as an opportunity for them to experience the working environment and also familiarise themselves with working in an area in line with the academic course they are undertaking.
She observes that many times, students are placed in companies that are not in line with the academic courses they are pursuing.
“When I receive applications for internship placement, I study them carefully. Many times, students apply for internship without taking time to understand what we do as a company. Students also get placed in wrong organisations for internship simply because it is the easiest way a relative can get,” she observes.
Life coach Ronald Mayanja says interns need to appreciate the process to begin with.
“When an internship place is given to a student, the first thing is to accept the internship place whether it was their dream internship organisation or not. Anyone going for internship should know that it is part of their academic journey that helps them to get a practical portion of the theory taught in class. Students need to embrace this exercise,” he explains.
Even before one starts their internship, Mayanja and Musimenta advise the students and their lecturers or tutors to sit down and set objectives of what they want to gain from the internship. One reason that the HR expert and life coach agree on is that by setting objectives, there is a clear guidance for a supervisor at a company that the student will be sent to.
Musimenta says companies need to adequately prepare for interns by providing them a work station or at least a shared space with staff so that they can be exposed to a hands-on experience that can enable them practice the theoretical studies the institutions offer.
Ronnie Ntambi, a team leader at Bonfire Parables and communication consultant, says that any intern seeking to get the best out of an internship opportunity should take time off to learn as much as they can about the organisation they seek to intern at.
Find out the history of the company, what makes them tick, their growth plans, and organisational culture, what makes their services or products unique, their competition and growth opportunities in case there are future career openings. “Such information comes in handy when you ask questions or contribute in meetings and are in line with the mission, objectives and mandate of the organisation. Start with an open mind and be willing to learn. Dive in and get your hands dirty at every opportunity. Be the one who volunteers to take part in any on-going assignment at the organisation,” the communication expert advises.
To this, Mayanja cautions students to be aware of company staff members who tend to take advantage of interns by sending them to do any work that is outside their profession.
“Students should have a clear log of activities. This log is vital in helping them write down their daily activities. At the end of the internship period, report writing will be made easy,” he adds.
To Musimenta, keenness and familiarising oneself with the working environment is important because at the end of the period, they will be required to write a report both at the organisation and to their institution detailing what they have learnt.
Mayanja urges students to insist on getting at least one key supervisor to avoid self-supervision, depending on the profession.
“Ask relevant questions. Offer ideas and solutions. Do not sit back and watch as glitches and hitches hit the organisational processes. Be part of the solution providers. Problems are moments to expose the gem in you.
Research, consult so that you contribute to the trouble shooting process,” Ntambi advises.
However, Ntambi warns students to be sensitive to work place politics and stay clear of it all by staying clear of camps and maintaining a neutral ground. As an intern goes about learning, the communication expert calls on them to be smart enough to identify the king pins and king makers in the work place.
He adds: “Seek opportunities to work with them and when you do expose your professional prowess. Seek out stellar members of staff at the organisation and seek advice and guidance from them. Most people love sharing their success stories.
“Ask them and listen. Be courteous and polite to all, from the lowest in rank to the highest. The gateman and driver may seem humble but they could throw in a good word for you when the talk to the boss just because you said hello to them when you arrived that morning.”
“In case students face any form of abuse such as bullying, discrimination, sexual harassment among others, they should report to management for investigation and proper disciplinary action,” Mayanja advises.
All in all, one needs to take time off to reflect on what they would like to get out of an internship and also take time to draw a plan on getting the most or best out of such an introductory working experience.