In a market with too many applicants and not enough jobs, getting experience is a catch-22; you need it to get jobs, you need a job to get it.
When Madinah Nansubuga was offered a four-month internship at a media house, she was selected ahead of hundreds of applicants. She gave the job her all, optimistic that with the right amount of work and dedication, she would be retained.
She thus felt a sense of betrayal when there was no job offer at the end of the four months, even when she offered to stay on as an unpaid volunteer.
“I really worked hard and hoped I would be retained. Our job is about passion so it was not really about the money. I wanted to keep my head busy, get some experience, but they still said no,” she recalls. “Where do employers want us to get the experience?”
According to the manpower survey 2016/17 by Uganda Bureau of Statistics, 130,790 students graduated from training institutions in 2015, part of about 700,000 that the National Planning Authority estimates joined the labour force that year.
But only 23,816 new formal jobs were projected in 2018, according to Uganda Investment Authority. For every long queue behind every job opening, there is an equally long one behind internship opportunities.
Internships allow employers to identify and try out potential recruits in lower rung, low-risk positions, says Douglas Opio, the executive director Federation of Uganda Employers (FUE).
“Many employers take on trainees who don’t have any experience. It’s important to appreciate this fact. Some of the employers do not advertise entry-level positions because suitable candidates are identified during internship and they are retained.”
At power utility Umeme, 200 technicians have been recruited over the past two years through an internship programme, says company publicist Stephen Illungole.
But unless there is a clear job offer at the end of the internship period, some companies are forced to let go of potentially good recruits to avoid becoming ensnared in legal disputes.
Mr Peter Kinobe, a lawyer and President of the Uganda Law Society says legally, internships in Uganda are allowed to last a maximum of six months. After that period, he says, the intern is then deemed to be an employee of the company.
This puts both employers and job seekers at a disadvantage. Potential employers would be unwilling to invest too much in on-the-job training of interns if they weren’t sure of employing them later, either because they were not trainable or because no job opened up.
Interns, on the other hand, might pick up skills that are only useful in niche companies, or miss out on other job openings elsewhere while waiting for an opening at the place of internship. Yet, without experience, they are usually at a disadvantage when applying for clear openings. In many ways, you are damned if you intern, damned if you don’t.
The World Bank says Uganda will need to create more than 600,000 jobs per year before 2030 and about a million every year after that to pace with the growth of the labour force. Rethinking internships will help both job seekers and prospective employers.
Job experience tips from FUE
1. Demonstrate value and the right level of commitment for an employer to give you an opportunity for a longer period of internship or volunteering.
2. Sometimes internships will be rotational. Experience can be gained by working with various employers for short periods of time.
3. Depending on the occupation, one can freelance with several prospective employers.