There is no question about it – the local ICT market is fraught with skills shortages. This has resulted in high costs for scarce skills and a growing vacuum of knowledge for the industry.
Internship programs can vastly improve skills development locally. While this assists to increase resources, the company driving the program can benefit significantly too.
Says Haseena Parak, director at e.com institute's Human Capital Institute: "There is a lot of effort and focus around formal training. This has left many graduates facing a 'chicken and egg' situation: they are qualified but have no work experience, and no work experience means fewer job opportunities. This further exacerbates the skills shortage in the ICT industry — a compelling reason to initiate internship programs."
Internship programs assist to provide graduates with working experience, turning them into skilled ICT professionals that can fill the resource gap South Africa faces.
Says Schalk Roelofse, general manager: Information Management at e.com institute: "Numerous issues impact the development of the local skills base and potential skills base (graduates). These include a lack of mentors in the ICT industry; graduates that are not exposed to technology from a practical perspective; and graduates that have studied towards a career in ICT but do not have the 'heart' or passion for the business."
Besides having an aptitude for ICT, which includes an enquiring and analytical mind that enjoys the challenge of solving problems, it is important for newly appointed graduates to be mentored by somebody that can coach, groom, assist and advise them, paving the way for a transition to a fully mature ICT professional.
Roelofse comments: "The 'brain drain' of ICT specialists means there is a dearth of mentors to develop graduates into highly skilled and experienced individuals."
e.com institute selects all its interns from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, providing an opportunity for graduates to 'cut their teeth' in a real-world working environment. However, an internship program must be structured to ensure the graduate benefits from the learning experience, rather than being 'spoon fed'.
Says Roelofse: "When we take on new interns, we implement a three-phased approach. The first phase involves providing interns with their own projects in a controlled test environment. Secondly, we ease them into project work by incorporating them into a team that is collectively working on a client project. In the third phase, interns are given their own billable projects, allowing them to be accountable to the client and take responsibility for the project. At this point, they understand that the project is not a 'dress rehearsal' but 'live'."
Internship programs are invaluable. Often, it is assumed that the graduate or intern will benefit the most, but the company running the Internship Program also benefits.
Parak explains: "Companies running such a program will have access to a resource pool that is thoroughly assessed. They can then take on the intern permanently, eliminating the hassle factor of finding the right candidate for the job."
In addition, companies are able to fulfil the 'investment and development' section of the ICT charter by implementing internship programs.
However, the impact of more internship programs will be felt on a greater level: it benefits the local economy by reducing the need to obtain skills from international markets and provides local resources with more employment opportunities. Internship programs, importantly, also assist to build a local delivery capacity for the ICT sector which is a key enabler for all businesses, irrespective of industry or markets.
Roelofse adds: "A larger ICT resource pool will also reduce the poaching of staff which has become problematic over the last few years. This ultimately creates a more 'stable' ICT sector and a stabilisation of costs associated with ICT skills, bringing down the cost of projects to end user customers."
Internship programs should thus be regarded as a business imperative, improving access to skilled resources, creating more employment opportunities and contributing to the overall betterment of our economy.