Each year at the start of summers, many students — especially those who have entered the final year of their degree programmes — start looking for internship opportunities.
The aims are varied — to gain exposure and practical experience in their area of interest, to build a network of contacts in the employment sector, to acquire a recommendation letter to add to their CV, to gain school credit, and eventually to get recruited. But, lack of standardisation and oversight in internship structures at most of these places leaves a big question mark about the usefulness of internships.
Internships usually fall into two categories — corporate sector internships and community development internships. Non-profit charities for community development often have unpaid, volunteer positions, whereas paid internships are, sometimes, available in professional fields only. However, employment at the completion of internship is not guaranteed.
Dr. Shahid A. Zia, Director of Akhuwat Institute, a non-profit organisation, says, “We have created an expatriate internship programme to train our interns through a rigorous, practical and focused approach, instilling love, compassion and empathy in them to give a way forward to a better world.” Zia emphasises the importance of community work and appreciates that many educational institutes have now fixed credit hours for community work.
Rabia Suhail, Manager Placements at Lahore School of Economics, explains the significance of internship for students as it helps them to determine their own interest. “For instance, whether they want to work in human resource or marketing or office or research work or their preference for NGO over profit-making organisations. They learn professional requirements of workspaces, how to deal with the boss and colleagues,” she says.
“The internship opportunities are far lower than graduating students. Unfortunately, at many places, merit is compromised and internships are given on the basis of reference. But work experience is what builds a student’s resume and increases their chance to get hired than newbies with no experience of workspace,” says Suhail.
In the corporate sector, internships for professional training and productive experience are usually difficult to find. Kinza Sultan, an undergraduate student at GCU, who couldn’t get any good internship during summer, explains how peer pressure and family criticism on ‘sitting idle at house’ led her mental health to a devastated state. “Students are hired in different firms based on the referral of some influential person. This not only snatches the opportunity from deserving students but also affects their psychological health and well-being. They get demotivated and hence the ride to depression starts. They begin to question their abilities and skills that in turn results into hopelessness.”
Asad Ali*, an undergraduate student in a small public college which is in a poor condition both academically and infrastructure-wise, complains that the state has long failed at providing an educational system which is fair and unbiased. “Students from educational institutions of lower strata are first deprived of quality education, and face lack of opportunities in getting good jobs and internships. Organisations have no mechanism of assessing who to offer the internship.”
Reflecting on her experience with a content-writing internship at a newly-found startup, Fareeha Akhtar, an undergrad student of a reputable public university, complains that “although her skills of content-writing was polished and she is likely to be hired by the same company on completing her internship; yet what disturbs her is that the companies whose internships have greater worth in the professional world, choose students who belong to elite private institutions.
“Being the only student from a public sector university at the company, I had to work twice as hard during the internship to prove my worth compared to my fellow interns from private universities.”
Many students also complain how big corporate industries do not publicly announce their internships and only those with reference simply get it, and then also get hired later.
Nida Irfan, an undergraduate student of Applied Psychology in a public university, did an internship at a private hospital. She had to pay a high fee, thinking it might give her better practical experience but she felt continuously demeaned by her supervisor for not knowing anything about practical experience.
She says, “I wanted to do an internship to gain practical experience, but I was repeatedly told that I know nothing and I was intellectually inferior to my supervisor. This I totally accept but that means she should teach me something, which she never bothered to.”
Ijaz Ulhaq, Senior Software Engineer at Alpha Square, who has been training interns for his company, says that training the interns consumes both the resources and time of the company, “getting them nothing in return, which is the reason why internships are rarely offered in the field of software engineering. Only those fresh graduates need internship who have not learnt properly during their graduation; maybe due to the poor standard of education in their respective institutions or their own lack of interest in their subjects.”
Due to poor career counselling, majority of students waste a lot of time in confusion while choosing the department of their interest. The confusion continues while they look for internships, thus ending up joining the frenzied trend of doing internship for the sake of internship rather than learning and gaining experience in a particular field.
Saleha Erum*, a journalist of a leading English newspaper, says, “I’ve gotten interns who have trouble constructing basic sentences in English, who have never picked up or read newspaper, who think they’re here to write editorials and analyse foreign affairs for the paper. A very small minority of interns is usually aware of what they want they are here for.”
Erum tells that most of the time, “news channels do not offer job on completion of internship. Summer internships are usually to teach aspiring journalists the basics of the craft and help them produce publishable material”.
The idea underlying the internship programme is to make the interns familiar with the workplace and job so that the employer can get experienced interns when they begin regular employment. It also helps an employer in gauging a student’s aptitude since grade inflation has decreased the reliability of academic grades. But the failure to ensure meritocracy and proper experiential learning in already insufficient internship positions has left a majority of students in a whirlpool of stress and hopelessness.
*These names have been changed to protect identity.