Undergraduates generally spend three to four years gaining theoretical knowledge on campus before they enter the workplace to put what they have learnt into practice.
The internship, which is mainly for final year students, comprises on-site work related to their discipline.
Primarily, it is an opportunity to learn more about the workplace, theoretically and practically, so students can boost their skills, build a network and gain knowledge about their profession.
It is through internships that most students gain the experiences which become building blocks of their professional development and help them discover their future career.
While the above may be the norm, some interns are said to be under-utilised by employers.
Alayna Amir, a senior manager at an oil and gas company, said some interns end up with clerical work because they do not have knowledge of the organisation’s business model and processes.
“This has to change. Employers shouldn’t ignore the fact that interns are smart and should be treated like executives.
“They should be given a chance to learn more about the work and make connections in the professional world.
“Employers should spare time and resources to train and expose interns to the workplace and, most importantly, offer them job opportunities once they show competence or willingness to learn,” she added.
Interns are more of a blessing to a company than a burden, and employers should embrace their presence.
Accenture Malaysia Strategic Engagement director Ebi Azly Abdullah said there are many ways to get the best out of interns. It is crucial to stop treating themas “token help” but rather as a team member.
The leadership needs to ensure that interns know what is expected of them.
“Interns have different capabilities and experience. Some are more than capable of handling difficult tasks. Some needmore guidance. Monitor their progress and nurture them.
“I treat interns as equal to the other team members. I test them to see their reaction to challenges. And the good ones will normally be absorbed into the company.”
INVESTMENT FOR THE FUTURE
Human resource practitioner and management consultant Rizleen Mustafa said that as interns normally have minimal or no access to the employers’ data system, they end up with paperwork.
Alayna added that, in many cases, interns do not get to enhance their learning as most do menial tasks such as filing, updating the database or organising small scale events in departments.
“They rarely get to attend meetings or mingle with executives. At corporate functions, they usher guests or man the registration desk.”
Maybank Group Resourcing Centre, Group Human Capital assistant vice-president Hafiz Muslim said many students do not realise that an internship is an investment in one’s future at the workplace.
Often, he added, they are reluctant to pursue internships for fear that they will be getting the coffee and making photocopies.
Hafiz noted: “Working with an intern is both a privilege and a responsibility for an employer.
“An intern offers an extra pair of hands and insight into youths. His up-to-date knowledge of his field offers new perspective.”
Employers should identify gaps in the organisation and ascertain where interns can play a role.
Ebi added: “Study the curriculum vitae and see which candidate fits a position. Interview shortlisted candidates to gauge their skills and whether they fit the corporate culture.”
Some companies, especially government linked ones such as Khazanah Nasional, Tenaga Nasional Bhd and Petronas offer Graduate Employability Enhancement Scheme (GEES) participants employment for six months.
Alayna said: “This is a chance to expose them to the real world similar to interns.
“The only difference is that if the GEES candidate shows potential, he will be invited to attend an interview, which means an opportunity to join the company.”
“Companies must identify the talent pool at university.
Exposure through internships can help students to improve and achieve bigger things,” commented Ebi.
“The end goal of taking in interns is to enhance the company and the learning process for the interns themselves.
“In my experience at a national public transport company, interns at the communications department were notthere for clerical support. They reviewed data from the customer care systems, conducted on-ground checks on communication tools within the transport network and worked anonymously to gauge customer service.”
During Ebi’s stint at a government innovation agency, interns not only participated in most of the programmes that it organised on behalf of the government but some also worked on drafts of policies.
Rizleen remarked that through involvement in projects which produce quick outcomes, interns gain the value of on-the-job training and experience the challenges of the whole initiative.
“An employer should provide interns with the right package and best learning programmes to attract students to apply for internships at the company.
“Come out with an ‘intern’s pack’ to spell outterms and conditions, programme structure including mentormentee schemes if any, allowances and information on the company as well as a welcome message from the chief executive officer,” added Rizleen.
Interns should take the initiative, possess a positive attitude and be eager to learn. They must be quick to adaptto the work environment and, most importantly, be professional.
“An intern should possess strong critical thinking skills and act quickly in any situation.
Make a good impression and fit into the corporate culture,” added Hafiz.
The mostideal situation is when an intern gets to utilise his knowledge in the organisation.
“Interns must learn to fully capitalise on their stint at the company. Learn as much as possible.
Get a mentor to provide guidance,” added Alayna.
BRIDGING THE GAP
Universiti Malaya’s Centre for the Initiation of Talent and Industrial Training director Dr Wendy Yee Mei Tien said it is important for interns to practise good values learnt at university in the workplace.
“The university has always impressed on students the importance of qualities such as integrity, punctuality, responsibility, hard work and eagerness to learn. As interns, they will learn more about job ethics and professionalism,” she added.
“They will get a taste of the bittersweet on-the-job training to better prepare themselves for the rat race.”
The centre has conducted internship preparatory workshops at each faculty, and organised talks by CEOs and human resources personnel on industry expectations of interns and how they need to prepare for internships, for example.
“We also conduct surveys among employers to identify the needs of the industry such as type of skills and qualifications required to better promote internships among our students and prepare them for the workplace.” Acting Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) deputy vice-chancellor (academic and international) Professor Datuk Dr Mohd Marzuki Mustafa said while students put theories into practice during internships, they find out the type of knowledge required in the real world.
Internships help to boost students’ confidence in applying their knowledge.
“Upon their return to the classroom after the internship, they are motivated to learn more and better appreciate the lessons,” he added.
However, when faced with a knowledge gap between what has been taught and what they need to know during an internship, students should not feel inferior or incompetent. They should be more determined to learn new things and subscribe to the need for lifelong learning instead.
“Briefings and preparatory modules are given to students to better prepare them for internships.
“We also seek to increase the number of companies which offer structured training to interns.
Regular feedback from the companies allows the faculties to make continuous improvement to their programmes.”
UKM organises the annual Integrated Internship and career Day to attract reputable companies to offer internships.
However, it is cautious about long periods of internship unless the training is well-structured to meet the required learning outcomes of the programme.
Too much emphasis on equipping students with job skills requirements may not produce graduates who are able to contribute new knowledge and ideas to the industry.
“This may lead to graduates who are only able to perform current job demands but are less prepared in adapting to new technology.
“There is a need to balance the two.