This month, many university and college students will be hoping to get a feel of the workplace, when they start their unpaid internship.
The exercise is part of the course content for many academic programmes and students may not graduate without doing it. For many students, the internships are usually a chance to bridge the gap between the theory handed down by authors and teachers, and the realities of the workplace.
This is meant to prepare the young people for the world of work, into which they will soon be thrust. For the firms and organisations hosting interns, the exercise can be a way to support people who may later be helpful as staff, clients or ambassadors. But as we report in Observer School today, many students are finding it difficult to get an internship position. In part, this is because of the growing number of institutions of higher learning.
Consequently, some firms have, for some time, been charging students for the internships. Organisations argue that they incur expenses while hosting the students, which costs the students should meet. This practice of charging interns is unfortunate and should be discouraged. If anything, it could be another indicator of how our society is losing its moral bearings and organisations forgetting their responsibility to the public.
For decades, hosting interns has been one of the aspects of corporate responsibilities of organisations to society. By making intherns pay, there is a danger that students who are not able to pay may be denied placements. But in the same vein, organisations may also miss out on meeting brilliant future professionals who would have added value to their staff.
There is no doubt that hosting interns is an added cost to companies, who must find such requirements as office space or field transport. But organisations need to see this as their contribution to the society.
Universities and other tertiary institutions can also do more to encourage firms and organisations to offer more placements. If institutions form a strong lobby, they could push the government to include placement expenses in nontaxable revenue, which could encourage more organisations to participate.