Internship reloaded

India is riding an optimistic wave of becoming a global superpower. The country is set to achieve this on the wings of its burgeoning human capital that is predicted to reach 116 million, with the majority of the new workers to be in the 20 to 24 age bracket. But there is one small problem, a very simple and straightforward problem – only a very small percentage of this workforce is considered employable by the industry. Internships are being touted as the panacea for this problem of unemployability.

The nation as a whole seems to be laying the responsibility of creating and executing internships at the doorsteps of the corporate world. While smarting under the unfairness of this, corporate India, with the inherited arrogance of capitalism tends to shrug it off as an inconvenience that does not add value, thereby accentuating the reputation of callousness.

Thanks to my role as the co-founder of an Ed-tech startup – Fourth Ambit, I find myself equipped with some unique insights into this ecosystem inhabited by three organisms: (A) The Industry (B) The Student body and (C ) The College. While I do not believe that internships are a one-stop solution to all problems related to employability, I am optimistic that they can indeed be used as a tool for bringing about lasting change.

Before we proceed, for the purpose of discussion allow me to define “internship”.

“Internship is a brief period of engagement, with or without pay, between the student and the organisation so that the student may gain experience in a particular field of study. This term of engagement may be conducted during the course of the college education or when the student has just graduated. An ideal time frame would be between 2 to 6 months”

The Industry and Internships

There are a handful of organizations across India that have internships as part of their recruitment agenda and therefore have the attention of top management. This translates to an allocation of resources for this endeavour. However, most of these organizations offer internships only to the premier B-Schools and a few Tier 1 Engineering colleges of India.

For the rest of the lot internships are at best, a bullet point in the annual report and at worst, a knee-jerk reaction to young students who suddenly turn up at their office like an unexpected and often unwanted guest.

Please note that I am not even acknowledging the companies that take money from the students under the guise of internships and end up issuing a certificate at the end of the period.

If you are part of a team or the sole voice for propagating the virtues of internships in your organization, I hope you will find this to be a handy guide for instituting an internship programme.

Groundwork within the organization

  • Plan for internships should be created and approved with the annual resource budget plan. This will ensure that there is buy-in from the top management and accountability at the lower levels.
  • Once approvals are in, the departments that have opted for interns should be mandatorily required to submit clearly defined projects with timelines and expected deliverables from the interns.
  • There should be a mentor for each project. This should not be a force fit as the mentors can create or destroy a good internship programme. Never assume that the mentor is automatically equipped to handle interns.
  • Please ensure mentors are “educated” to guide and mentor the students. Very often you hear mentors making snide remarks such as “What do they teach you at college?”. This is completely counter-productive. A certain amount of sensitizing would be required for the mentors.
  • The mentors should conduct weekly reviews for the interns ( not more than 2 sessions a week of 30 minutes each)

The Intern and the Internship

If you are the anchor for the internship programme in your company, remind yourself that the interns are young and certain things need to be spelled out clearly to them.

  • Create a detailed orientation plan for the student intern. Understanding their project and its implication for the whole organization will ensure their buy-in. ( This should also include company policies, especially on “anti-harassment” and privacy issues. )
  • Spell out the benefits that the students gain from this programme – especially if they are not paid a stipend.
  • One of the key skills not taught at college is time management and creating processes. Ensure that both the anchor and the mentor stresses on this and guides the intern effectively.
  • Create networking opportunities for the interns – either an executive lunch hosted by a CxO or a “Hi-Tea”
  • Ensure that you collect detailed and anonymous feedback from the interns at the end of the programme. This will help with future improvements.

A seamless execution of these would ensure that your interns go back to college as your brand ambassadors.

The College and the Internship

At no point in history has there been a stronger trend of colleges and industries working at cross purposes than in the last one decade. The aim of the colleges is to beat the maximum pass percentage out of the student population. If that means teaching by rote, then so be it.

To expect people with limited resources and unlimited restrictions (I mean the teachers, of course) to manufacture employable graduates may be a utopian dream, but there are measures that the industry can put in place to assist them on this journey.

  • Identify partner colleges where you can make recommendations on the skills that the students need to be equipped with when they appear for internships.
  • Extend “Learning and Development” within the company to the faculty of the colleges on a pro bono basis. Teach the teachers how to teach so that ultimately you do not spend a lot of time retraining the students who enter the workforce.
  • Give candid feedback after the internship is completed, not just to the students but to college authorities. A constructive feedback mechanism will help colleges help their students.

It may not be possible to implement all the suggestions given here in the very first attempt. As with any project intended to make lasting change, internships should also be looked at with a long-term plan for the company. Beyond creating a recruitment pipeline for the organization, internships in the truest sense is experiential learning and a certain amount of preparation will go a long way in making this a meaningful journey for the students.

 

Ruby Peethambaran

Co-Founder, Fourth Ambit Technologies Pvt Ltd 

She can be found on Linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/rubypeethambaran/