Between March and April, Martha Muigai scoured the Internet, mailing applications for industrial attachment to several organisations.
After getting no feedback, the fourth-year electrical engineering student at the University of Nairobi resorted to teaching herself coding at home.
With her own laptop and free online courses on coding, Ms Muigai says she has been completed many projects. And since April, she hasn’t bothered looking for industrial attachment.
“I have been coding from home since I didn’t get formal placement for industrial attachment. I have completed many coding projects on my own and I know that the skills I have acquired will help me in my fifth-year project when school reopens in September,” she says.
She has been to three industrial attachments, in and outside school as per the requirement of UoN’s engineering department. Engineering students at the university go for industrial attachment in their second and third years in school.
During the fourth year of study, the students are also encouraged to go on one industrial attachment when they break for the holidays between March and September.
Muigai says she relied on connections for all the attachment positions she applied for.
“I have been to Kenya Bureau of Standards and to Kengen during my second and third years in school. But in all these places, there was always someone within the organisation to help me get in. When I tried to apply on my own during fourth year and was unsuccessful,” says Muigai.
In many higher learning institutions, industrial attachment is an essential part of an academic programme where students apply what they learnt in class in an actual work environment.
While at it, they gain practical experience and work ethics outside the classroom. During the three-month attachment, aggressive students establish valuable industry networks before they go back to school to complete their academic programmes.
The benefits notwithstanding, getting a place for industrial attachment has never been an easy endeavour for many university students.
A student looking for industrial attachment is faced with many obstacles including lack of knowledge on how the industry operates, scarcity of opportunities and stringent requirements from the industry.
Stringent industry requirements
The first time Benson Kimotho, an IT student Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKuat), wrote a CV was three months ago when he was applying for industrial attachment. To date, Kimotho says his applications at various companies have not borne any fruit.
He blames this on the scanty details on his CV. “My CV is only one page long and I only included the previous schools I have been to, my grades and some accomplishments in my modelling career. Companies should not pay a lot of attention to our CVs while reviewing our applications for industrial attachment,” says Kimotho.
Raphael Maithya, Amazon Fronts Limited Business Development Manager says it helps that a student looking for industrial attachment elaborate the courses they are pursuing.
“Give a detailed account of the strengths you have gathered while pursuing the particular course. If you are a finance student, say that you have read about quick books, filing returns and any other skills that are relevant in accounting,” says Maithya.
He also urges recruiters to be more accommodating to students seeking industrial attachment and not to treat them as job seekers already equipped with required skills.
National Industrial Training Authority (Nita), a state corporation tasked with, among other responsibilities, placing university students on industrial attachment, first ensures that applicants are students in universities.
Students are then required to have a letter from the university recommending them for industrial attachment and a medical insurance.
They are also required to present a contract form signed by the student, Nita and the attachment provider. The attachment provider, in the presence of Nita officials, then assesses a student who presents all these documents for eligibility.
Patrick Amunavi, a senior official at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKuat) communications department, faults the industry for increasing hurdles for students looking for industrial attachment.
“These days, it is mandatory for students to have medical cover before they are taken in for industrial attachment. Sometimes, the recruiter takes them through a lot of trouble acquiring these documents then fails to accommodate them,” says Amunavi.
Amunavi says he has been approached by many distressed students who could not secure industrial attachment.
“When students exhaust all options of finding an attachment, they come to the communications department looking for leads. For some reason, they believe we know organisations out there where we can recommend them,” says Amunavi.
Kenneth Njoroge, the Senior Careers Advisor at Kenyatta University’s Centre for Career Development and Placement says the situation is compounded by the fact that universities send students for industrial attachment at the same time.
“Searching for industrial attachment is not a walk in the park. Many universities release their students for industrial attachment almost at the same time exposing them to stiff artificial competition,” says Mr Njoroge.
In most universities, third-year students go on industrial attachment between April and September before they proceed for their final year of school.
Njoroge says that the ease of getting an industrial attachment depends on the course a student is pursuing in school and the varying industry needs.
He says it is easier for students pursuing science and business oriented courses to get attachment than those pursuing humanity-oriented courses such as counselling psychology, public administration or political science.
“Education students face fewer challenges getting an industrial attachment because there are many schools where they can teach. They also are high demand in schools because the extra hand they add helps ease the workload in school,” says Njoroge.
Lack of knowledge of how the relevant industry operates
Brian Oduma, a student of Development Studies at the Univesity of Nairobi was once attached to a computer assembly plant where he had no educational background.
It was the only position he found after several failed attempts to get industrial attachment in a related field.
“I saw an opportunity at the plant and since I had tried to look for attachment in a related field and failed, I took the opportunity. Nothing I did at the plant was related to what I studied in school,” says Oduma.
Luckily for the third-year student, he had been introduced to fundamentals of the computer in one of the units he took.
With this, he was able to configure computers and assemble laptops and tablets. Other duties included installing software in computer devices for clients at the company.
Experts say that students find it hard to decide which organisations provide services in their areas of study. It, therefore, becomes difficult for students to know where to start looking for industrial attachment.
When this happens, students find themselves in unrelated fields where they perform tasks that are unrelated to what they studied in school.
Still, others are torn between working for bigger and more established companies and accepting attachment in smaller ones.
While smaller companies have been hailed as the best places to go for internship and industrial attachment, these organisations are shunned by students who are more attracted to the perceived prestige of being attached to bigger organisations.
A majority of students go for big companies to have a brand-name experience on their resumes.
Those who choose smaller companies, however, get more exposure across several departments in the company. In smaller companies, attachees are said to have a much easier time bonding with work colleagues, including those in top management. Kimotho says he would rather go for attachment at a bigger IT firm that offers a range of services.
“Small IT firms only provide computer installations and maintenance. But in school, we learn many other things like computer graphics, advertisement, networking and how to make software that are only available in larger companies,” says Kimotho.
He adds: “Besides, it feels good to get experience by working for well-known firms.”
how to stay ahead of the pack in the industrial attachment race
The Ministry of Education last year launched the Office of Career Services that will require all universities and tertiary institutions in Kenya to offer career support services.
It emerged during the launch that Kenyatta University (KU), Strathmore University and the United States International University Africa had the best careers offices that were helping students to get internships and jobs, and even industrial attachment.
Kenneth Njoroge, the Senior Careers Advisor at KU’s Centre for Career Development and Placement shares tips for students struggling to get industrial attachment.
“Universities should find a way to engage the industry. And the MoUs they sign could include the various companies offering positions for industrial attachment, internships and jobs. At KU, the Centre for Career Development and Placement has a rich database of some of the leading recruiters that keep opening up vacancies that we advise our students to apply to. We also organise for career events where we invite the industry and encourage students to interact freely with representatives from various companies. Aggressive students forge many helpful networks with companies during such days.
“Additionally, we provide individual lessons to students who step into the careers office looking to learn the best ways to write a CV especially for entry-level positions including internships and even industrial attachment.
We also encourage students to network with senior students who have been to industrial attachment to help them learn the ropes. Students are also encouraged to keep contacts of alumni who recommend them for internship and industrial attachment at places where they work.
In the past, we have encouraged our students to seek industrial attachment at Nita (National Industrial Training Authority), a state corporation that links universities and the industry by placing students on industrial attachment. Students who follow all regulations of Nita stand a high chance of getting an industrial attachment.
Finally, we advise our students to start looking for industrial attachment early enough. When all universities release their students for industrial attachment almost at the same time, it becomes difficult to get attachment in the already crowded market. But those who start thinking of places to go for attachment during first semester in third-year usually have an edge over the rest.”
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