Taking a closer look at internships

PHOTO: Taking a closer look at internships

THOUGH physical and verbal abuse of interns here might be rare, other forms of mistreatment are known to exist. These include unreasonable hours, pay reduced or withheld as punishment for infractions, and tasks given that are unrelated to the specified purpose of the internship.

Interns might not be quick to complain if they believe a bad report could be sent to their school by the participating organisation.

Internships are a course requirement and students hope to be employed by the host company. They are supplicants.

So little is known about interactions between host, intern and educational supervisor it must count as a serious flaw of what is increasingly essential work preparation for tertiary students.

Procedures should be instituted to enable interns to report mistreatment without fear of reprisal by workplace supervisors.

A recent case of physical abuse captured on video by an intern, who herself had misgivings about the firm, should prompt stakeholders to take a hard look at how programmes are organised.

It is hard to imagine such extreme misconduct in a training setting. Bullies must worry about assault complaints.

Schools should be auditing participating firms closely to ensure objectives of the programme are being met and also monitor safety and welfare issues, and compliance with labour laws.

Being an integral part of job-fit scoping between industry and higher education, clearer ground rules need to be set and understood by all. There should be a balance of interests.

Educational institutions and interns have to ensure training is rigorous via exposure to battle conditions. Participating firms benefit as pre-employment sifting gives them an edge in hiring.

Large firms which give out scholarships require recipients to intern with them during term break. Smaller outfits get value from the boundless energy of interns and their willingness to try new things.

This is a mutually reinforcing system where no one party should think it is doing another a favour.

Skills matching is getting problema-tic in the big economies as industry requirements become sharply defined, for example in high-technology, consumer products, health-care and professional services.

Big companies in China, India and the United States are setting up their own teaching campuses to "reschool" recruits. As this is beyond most employers, they should lend more support to a widespread system of internship programmes that help trainees to apply book knowledge and skills to "real-world settings".

As the pre-mium on internships rises, so does the need for proper design and accountability to ensure everybody comes out a winner.

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