Internships and Vacation Programmes
What are the different types of internships available in South Africa?
As a current student or graduate there is a place on the career ladder that you see yourself one day. Getting to your destination will require hard work, motivation and patience – just like a game of Snakes & Ladders, there will be great moments of climbing the ladder of success but this will always come with obstacles and detours. It is at these points that learning and growth occurs – winning the game is up to how you react, respond and recover.
These lessons learnt may happen at any point along the ladder – equipping yourself from the start is the best thing you can do to gain competitive advantage over other job seekers. The beginning of this journey for you has been consumed with getting good results, finding out more about specific industries that fit your expectations, and graduating.
The most important phase at the start is all about experience. Industry experience is recognised by employers as a huge advantage and top of the list of employability. An internship is your way of acquiring practical experience, gaining an understanding of that specific industry, and ultimately getting a head start.
Types of Internships
Internships are structured in multiple ways – from paid to unpaid, for students still studying to graduates, credit bearing to a full time contract to gain experience. With so many variations it is wiser to call these internships work experience programmes as this is the main goal.
An internship is for you if work experience is your objective. This is a period of time where you are able to ‘look before you leap’ into the corporate world and see if the industry is everything that you expected. It is a time for you to gather as much knowledge you can in relation to the theory of your qualification, and understand how these relate. Not only is it a phase for you to test the waters for yourself, but the employer is doing the same thing with you. It is a trial period where you need to prove yourself – validate that you have the basic skills and attributes to become an asset to the organisation.
Employers want your time with them to be meaningful. To increase your chances of employability and show that you could be an asset to have, it is vital to demonstrate qualities such as:
- Time management/ get to work on time
- Professional in your dress and mannerism
- Diligent and hard working
- Meet deadlines
- Work well in a team
- Can be a leader if the need arises
- Good communication skills - be it with co-workers or in presentations
- Keen learner
Curriculum based internships:
Curriculum based work experience programmes are credit bearing and have specific outcomes. They have various titles, namely: Internships, cooperative education, work experience programmes, or work integrated learning. These are usually considered as a module that needs to be completed in order to gain qualification – typically seen at institutes like a University of Technology. These internships are highly supervised as features and conditions need to be met, with the employer usually writing a report evaluating you at the end of the period.
A vacation programme or vac internship is completed during the summer or winter holidays. They generally run for 2 to 6 weeks and are often required to be completed as part of a qualification. In South Africa it is usual practise for Engineering students to complete a minimum of six weeks as a requirement of the course – they can do it in one holiday or structure it over a few within the year. There are specific outcomes to meet and the standard is set by a professional body – in the case of Engineering it is set by Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA).
However a vacation programme may not always be as structured in other industries like Banking, with FMCGs like Unilever or Procter & Gamble, or Management Consulting companies. In less structured programmes there is usually a 3 to 6 week designed programme – this is often used by employers as part of a Talent Management Strategy or Graduate Attraction Strategy. This means that even before you have reached your final year of study, you have had the opportunity of gaining experience with a high possibility of an early offer.
There are evaluations done by both employers and you – this is so the employer can measure your feelings on the programme as well as giving you feedback on your own performance. Vacation programmes are very difficult to get into and typically well paid. It is normal for the criteria of the Vacation programme to match the standard of the organisation’s entry level vacancies.
A shadow programme or shadow internship is very similar to a vacation programme – the main difference being that in a vac programme you are doing a number of tasks gaining work experience, in a shadow you are a spectator. In a shadow programme you are getting a look and feel of how the business runs, who their clients are and what the day-to-day running of the business entails. You are watching over shoulders to see how things are done.
A shadow programme is known to run for about two to five days – can be as long as two weeks. It is more of a ‘company training’ programme for you to see and understand where the theories and methodologies you are learning at university, are implemented and used in the world of work. It is a lens into the industry showing how things are done.
This programme is team work based with client site visits and social events and ice breakers. The work will come in simulated form – where you and your team will be given a specific project to complete according to what they have learnt, generally with a presentation at the end of the programme. This is common practise in the Accounting and Law fields.
Internships that are offered after graduating are extremely competitive to get into and their criteria are in line with that of a graduate job. There are many forms of graduate internships – graduate programmes even being categorised as one of them.
The most common Graduate internship we all know as Articles. This is done within Chartered accounting and Law sectors–these are however compulsory and structured into a 36 month full time contract period. Articles have to be done in order to become a professional in the Law and Accounting fields, with measured skills and expected requirements. There are often exams that have to be written during and at the end of your Articles resulting in further qualification.
In terms of Graduate programmes and other general internships after graduating, there is a contract period agreed upon. The pay ranges from nothing at all, a stipend which is most common, and if you are one of the lucky ones then you will be paid a normal employee’s rate.
The corporate world is a very competitive place with internships being snapped up quickly. It is common practise in the media sector in South Africa to offer unpaid internships - this has two sides to it. On one hand being amazing experience, great CV filler, and an incredible opportunity to prove yourself and get into the industry; on the other hand it is a very difficult experience for you if you are trying to pay back student loans – a phenomenon of unpaid internships sees you paying to get experience, literally.
At this point in your career journey, open your eyes to the endless possibilities that may not be named internships but have the same structure. Remember that not only big organisations offer internships, many NGOs offer paid internships too – even volunteering is work experience. Internships in South Africa come in all shapes and sizes and can even be found right on campus – here are some practical examples:
- A tutor (This is one of the best ways to gain work experience – with so many skills and growth opportunities to be learnt while teaching)
- An assistant at the Writing Centre
- Intern at the Marketing department
- Admin assistant at faculty offices
- Reception at the Careers Service office
Applying to internships and vacation programmes is along the same lines as applying for graduate programmes – be prepared for rigorous assessments and interviews. These opportunities are challenging to obtain but the prospects are so rewarding. Get to know the company and the industry before entering the process – use this knowledge to best show how your attributes and strengths fit the organisation and how you can contribute to their business. Most large organisations will advertise these positions but many companies don’t market their internship spaces – use your initiative and approach organisations that you are keen to work for and learn from. There may be great opportunity waiting for you on a ladder you never thought to climb.
With so many directions to go and a choice of multiple ladders, internships can be an excellent way of gaining experience. This step in the ladder to success is full of opportunity with the main objective being a phase of learning, growth and experience. This may be a tough step with many challenges that will push you – moving you down a step or make you lose your balance – but at the end of the day the skills you will learn and the networks you will engage with, can only move you up and over those hurdles. With a true practical understanding to strengthen your knowledge and theory, you will become an asset that will not only be needed but that can add to and grow an organisation. There are no secrets to reaching the top of your ladder of success. There is only the result and experience of preparation, hard work, and learning from the snakes of life.
Internships and Vacation Programmes by Industry
- Banking and Finance
- Business and Commerce
- Marketing &Sales
- Mining, Oil and Gas