When Rosemary started her internship at a big financial institution in the country, she did not expect to be serving beverages and ushering visitors around the office three months into it. Rosemary, an Accounts major, expected to be thrown into the deep end of the pool to test what she learnt at the university.
“OMG! That was one of the worst experiences ever. Imagine a whole accounting intern being on standby for anyone needing tea or coffee. I was the tea girl cum usher who rescued lost clients around the big office for almost four months, before I decided enough was enough,” the 24-year old who is now working for a local bank tells Hashtag.
Rosemary’s experience is not the only peculiar internship experience. Okundi Martin* had to pay for his internship in one of the media houses in the country. The young man who is pursuing a career in broadcast media was disappointed that such an established institution would expect an intern, who was still dependent on their parent, to pay to exercise what they learnt at college.
“It is more of fraud – a selfish scheme to benefit a few because in reality, I didn’t gain much work experience as I was left to my own devices as everyone was busy chasing their career,” the young man explains.
Internships in Kenya are usually trial and error. While some interns experience great working conditions and even a stipend from their employer, some like Okundi are frustrated from the onset by the innumerable barriers put into their path.
“Many employers and institutions do not appreciate the value interns bring to an organisation for a negligible fee,” says Okundi. “Rather that reap the benefits of fresh and different perspectives, some remain obsessed with bullying.” While tales of disappointing internships abound, successful ones exist in equal measure. Some students are fortunate to be attached to companies that value the resource of a young minds. In some cases, some interns who prove worthy are eventually absorbed into the workforce on a permanent basis.
Edith Ameyo one of the employees at Kenafric started as an intern. In 2014 while still at the Kenya College of Accountancy University pursuing a Bachelor of Commerce in Human Resources, she joined Kenafric in the human resources department for her internship.
After finishing college she worked at the company’s confectionery factory and was employed as an assistant in the human resources department on a contract basis eight months later.
Speaking at Kenafric, Edith Ameyo says: “I would encourage students to apply for internships because it provides a learning platform for them since they have little experience of the real world. It also gives young people opportunities to acquire new skills, abilities and knowledge which could help them in landing jobs. In addition it offers them insights of the organisations they would like to join and build connections with associates who can be beneficial for their future careers.”
“When applying for internship it is advisable to deliver the application personally. I did that at Kenafric and met Mr Mayur Shah, the Company’s Senior Executive Director, on the same day. He sent me to the Human Resources Partner and I was given the letter to start immediately.”
“Although it is not guaranteed, most employers are always seeking to add value to their organisations and internships offer opportunities to transition into full-time positions. At the Kenafric Industries, I was given the chance to showcase my talent and abilities in my field. Finally after working for four months as an intern and one year on contract basis, I was offered a permanent position and I am now a Human Resources Officer. I look after 485 permanent employees in the company’s footwear and stationery factory.”
Hannah Karuru, the Kenafric Senior Human Resources Business Partner adds: “Most companies expect new employees to have some level of experience, but students straight from colleges, or universities do not have the hands -on job skills. Internships and volunteer skills make candidates more competitive in the job market. It is also a learning field for them to build their confidence. The more internship exposure students have from working for many companies throughout their college years, the better for their resumes. This will make an impression to a hiring manager.”
Miss Ameyo’s case is not isolated. Jacinta Mwakimaku was accepted as an intern at a local bank. The Business Administration major quickly rose through the ranks beginning as a sales person to her current role overseeing the mobile banking department.
“While there is an element of luck involved, more often than not supervisors take note of an intern’s commitment and speed up the internship to something more permanent,” she says, now in her third year at the bank.
Charles Kinyua, a 27-year-old banker and owner of Ahambi Tours that organises tours for clients locally and around the region was also lucky that his internship turned out well.
“I started volunteering at a local bank during my university breaks and the manager liked my work and employed me well before I cleared studies. The rest is history,” he said.
According to him, one thing that should always motivate interns is the need to impress by showing commitment and learning fast.
“Employers can gauge the attitude and aptitude of a person within weeks. Take any chance given to you. Internships are becoming harder to find due to factors like hard economic, but I urge students to learn as much as they can; even serving tea teaches one patience and servitude,” he says, a fact seconded by Jacinta.
With the market also out to attract the best brains, some companies have come up with innovative ways to do that.
Paid internships have now become a lucrative avenue for companies to attract young brains into their firm.
Type ‘paid internships’ on Google search engine and tonnes of local and international firms with offices locally come up, meaning there has been an increase in the number of firms that believe interns should be paid.
Even the government has jumped into that bandwagon, with President Uhuru Kenyatta saying there are plans to absorb at least 100,000 graduates each year into paid internships in the public and private sector.
Speaking in Meru County in June, the President said the ambitious plan will see these graduates work for a period of 12 to 18 months.
“Beginning next year (2018), university, polytechnic and technical training institute students will be offered a one to one-and-a-half-year paid internship. This is one of the programmes that will expand opportunities for the young people in addition to our ongoing youth empowerment initiatives,” he said.