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How companies can help empower IT graduates through practical in-service training/internship programmes

In-service training and internship programmes will empower graduates if managed properly, says Kwanda Phiri, GM of iMbasa IT.

Johannesburg, 03 Feb 2015

It is so sad to watch parents and relatives spend thousands of rands of hard earned money, or even signing up for student loans in order to take young people to universities, universities of technology and colleges, only to end up being unemployed or unemployable on completion of their IT studies.

Over the years, we have noticed that getting a qualification in IT is no guarantee that IT graduates will end up in full-time employment in an IT industry or related job. Having undertaken some research in our interactions with IT graduates, we have noted one of the major obstacles to employment opportunities in the IT industry is the huge gap between theory, practical application and skills requirement in the employment world or IT industry.

There seems to be a misalignment between tertiary (theoretical and practical education) and industry required skills. Theoretical knowledge and skills are good, but often misaligned or insufficient for an IT graduate to get into employment and actually immediately make a meaningful contribution and add value to the business operations of the employer, says Kwanda Phiri, GM of iMbasa IT.

We spoke to a number of IT graduates from different institutions around the country, and they agreed that they don't know what companies or prospective employees are looking for, and obviously did not have the required experience. Whenever they tried to apply for employment, they constantly found that almost all IT companies are always looking for some "work experience" in addition to IT qualifications.

For some reason, employees seem to expect IT graduates fresh from tertiary institutions to have some form of work experience, which presently does not form part of the curriculum. This, in our view, is being driven by industry needs which suggests the industry is not geared to train graduates and create a pool of experienced and capable IT graduates who require less on-the-job training and minimal supervision.

At iMbasa IT, we are of the view that tertiary institutions that offer IT curricula should develop a curriculum that includes a requirement for IT student to complete a minimum of six months of on-the-job training before they can graduate. In this way, the IT graduate will now have some form of practical work experience, which will empower them with industry required and critical skills. This needs full co-operation of companies to assist directly by taking on IT trainees and interns and giving them the relevant and required practical work experience.

This approach is, however, not without its challenges. On top of the list is the question of co-operation between tertiary institutions and the IT industry. For the IT industry, compensation or some form of remuneration comes on top of the list. The IT trainees expect some form of remuneration, and role-players might not always be in a position to afford to spend on trainees through payment of salaries.

In our view, the IT graduate or prospective IT graduates should be willing to settle for basic subsistence funding, which should at least cover basic needs such as transport costs, food allowance and other basic needs such as clothing. We also sadly noted that most IT graduates regrettably undergo internship programmes with no subsistence pay whatsoever, and just having to settle for a transport allowance only, or they just sit at home (job hunting) or they end up taking up some odd job opportunities that are completely unrelated to IT, such as waitressing, secretarial work, informal trading and even domestic work.

We are of the view that companies have a huge empowerment role to play in terms of imparting the required work skills pre-, during or post IT qualification. The formal IT qualification will therefore include some form of hands-on work experience, which can be used in seeking employment in the industry.

In-service training/internship programmes have a huge potential to sufficiently empower graduates if managed properly, and may have positive outcomes reducing unemployment as far as young IT graduates are concerned. If implemented properly, they may produce work-ready graduates and reduce the amount of time spent training new IT recruits in the IT industry. Until then, temporal measures have to be put in place to assists current IT graduates.

A number of IT graduates we spoke to agreed that an opportunity to gain some hands-on experience will go a long way to empower them with the requisite or relevant work experience, as long as they receive some form of subsistence pay to cover transport costs, etc.

As a former unemployed IT graduate myself, I know how grateful I was when Isett SETA, Oracle and EOH jointly assisted me to gain some practical work experience in the IT industry. I was shortlisted for an eight-month programme, with no normal salary but basic subsistence pay. It certainly opened doors for me to enter the job market.

As an IT intern, I was given real IT work with real deadlines. I was also helped to learn to use other soft skills such as time management, project management and planning, and I grew fast. I have never been unemployed since then. In brief, that is where my passion for training IT interns was born; that's why now, more than 10 years later and as a founder of an Oracle Consulting company, I keep taking on IT graduates so I can also change their lives positively by giving them on-the-job training and imparting some of the critical skills in the IT industry. This exercise is obviously not without its challenges and funding is at the centre...

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