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Dynamic internships key to skills development in ICT industry

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Despite reports to the contrary, there is a strong supply of graduates wishing to join the ICT industry. This is according to Dr. Johann Burden, group executive: human resources at Business Connexion, who disputes the idea that ICT is no longer an attractive industry for school leavers.

Burden says that Business Connexion’s 2007 internship programme was so successful that it has employed all of its current interns and is looking increase its intake significantly next year, adding that he is confident that it will find enough candidates. “Young people believe that being technologically savvy is a smart career choice. They understand the growing importance and influence of technology,” he says.
A 2006 report from the Joint Initiative of Priority Skills Acquisition (Jipsa) identified ‘on-the-job coaching, mentoring and guidance’ and ‘national and international placement programmes’ as ways of dealing with the problems faced by unemployed school-leavers and graduates. As such, Business Connexion instituted its learnership programme in 2005.
In 2007, however, the company changed its focus to internships, which are distinguished from learnerships in their focus on graduates instead of school-leavers. The 2007 internship programme recruited participants from tertiary institutions across the country, in collaboration with the Information Systems, Electronics and Telecommunications Technologies (Isett) Seta.
Burden believes that good internships are the result of a special mix of ingredients. Most important of these is that the organisation is fully committed to the programme, and that it adds strategic value to the business.
“The company should support the internship programme throughout its lifecycle and understand its worth for both the business and the individuals concerned. Programmes such as these will only succeed with commitment from all involved,” he says.
Furthermore, organisations should leverage off their partnerships with tertiary institutions and other businesses. Burden says that collaboration among businesses and tertiary institutions in placing interns is mutually beneficial, and that such relationships are making a healthy contribution to the effort to alleviate the industry skills shortage.
Another criterion of a successful training programme is that managers are involved from the recruitment process, which starts with identifying appropriate vacancies and interviewing candidates. “Internship programmes should not be viewed as an HR endeavour, but embraced by all members of the company,” Burden says.
Finally, an internship should run its full course before any decisions regarding employment are made. “Only after a full internship has been completed can managers truly asses the employability of a participant,” he adds.
During Business Connexion’s internship programme the responsibility of mentoring and coaching was given to line managers, who helped develop interns’ technical skills, as well as soft skills to assist with the transition to corporate life.
Burden says that the mentorship process had the welcome spin-off of improving managers’ skills as well. “Managers reported that the experience had taught them invaluable lessons about supervising people, and requested that they be given the opportunity to work with more interns in the future,” he adds.