The Internship Challenge for students

By K. Mohamed Shaffi                                                                                     S4S : FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (Click)
former CEO, Tecton Engineering & Construction, India                                                                                                           

In India and in vast majority of countries even today students just learn from books, they hardly get field experience during course of study. The student exposure to industry is limited to some industrial trips in and around their college. So the first opportunity that the students get exposed to industry and practice is when they get an internship for a reasonable period of time. The challenge of getting internship is as challenging as it was 25 years ago, when I managed to get one.  Mushrooming of professional colleges is one of the main reasons and student population is so huge that it is difficult to provide opportunity to all students, having said that the students today have several options that were not available in our times. Digital world has indeed created a whole lot of opportunities that was not available to us then.

The best way I can explain the current scenario is through some recent events that I personally experienced. One thing that has not changed since last 25 years is that most companies do not give adequate time to interns. They have to learn themselves or they never get to learn, that’s the reality. From the company’s perspective they have their own challenges, priorities and emergencies to attend to and students also need to understand these aspects. The colleges and their Industry /Placement cells contribute very little to help students get an internship. This is true with some of the leading institutes of this country. I know one of them for sure as my son goes to one such premier and renowned institute. Students reach out to their parents, relatives and friends to get internship for 4-8 weeks. Most often companies are willing to accommodate for less than two weeks and students with no option agree and the interns in most cases do not get paid for the work they do.

In our company, I had instructed our HR department to accommodate internship requests that reaches us from colleges, once we receive such a request the HR Manager discusses with Heads of each department and requests them to block their calendar and allocate resources to mentor the students, a program is put in place with both concepts being taught in office and then they are sent to project site for practice. The HR department acts as a time keeper with the program and feedback. Being a large company that we are, we had requests from our employees to accommodate their wards and we accommodated, but what we noticed is they took things for granted and dropped off half-way. Some students do not value opportunity when it comes to them with ease. The heads of various departments suggested we need to assess if the students were serious and also internally assess our own work load before we commit time. This one passed by. Last year, my son came to me and requested if I can arrange internship for ten students in short span of time, I knew it is not easy hence had a discussion with our HR department and requested this be accommodated. The team agreed and a plan was put in place, I warned my son he has to make it clear to his friends that they should take this opportunity seriously and there will be feedback sought at different stages. The students were studious and willing to learn and I had received excellent feedback from our managers, the enthusiasm level of students both in office and project site was very high, I also received positive feedback from the project site from officers of the Public Sector Company where our company was carrying out the project. A good program always works.

I also sought students feedback from our HR department and HR department invited all students for a tea session in our office and the feedback was collected, the ratings were higher than we expected, HR Manager wanted me to address the students and I took this opportunity to speak to them and understand what did they hear from their friends who went other organizations, they informed me that most students felt that they were treated like a herd, went to the office/work place/project site and sat in a room all day, had lunch and returned to their rooms later in the evening and this continued till the penultimate day when they were taken and shown the factory or industry. We also got to know that some of them informed that they had classroom sessions and never got to see anything at work place due to maintenance etc., but there were some organizations where in time was allocated with specialists to interact and physically see the plant. This confirms that industry is not going to change any sooner when it comes to internship, this is going to go on unless there is going to be serious structural changes that are brought in as policies for industry to accommodate interns. I expected the skill India campaign to address these ills, not sure if this is just a slogan.

Guidelines for Interns and Internships

Now I would like to put forward some suggestions for students, firstly students need to understand, just as a saying goes “If you expect God to help you, you should first help yourselves”, this is basic rule for life. It was utmost important in our days to depend on companies to accommodate us as interns because, information was limited to books and journals, we hardly had any exposure to digital world. Today, with information available with a click of button, it is important that one should explore continuously to learn new concepts. The first time I had a detailed look at a boiler or a cooling tower was when I actually went to work. With my engineer hat on I sat down with the technician to know the ins and out of these systems. So what is important is the attitude, start the learning process from scratch, recently a relative of mine wanted me to help with internship in US for the boy studying there, the boy is pursuing Electrical Engineering and I asked the boy if he had visited the power plant in his city, he said ‘no’ and I went on to ask him did he make an attempt to seek a time with the plant manager for visiting the plant. The answer was no, all information on power plant is generally available over the internet, all that he had to do was read and understand and later seek a time for a day or two to know first-hand about the power plant. Students should not depend on companies to spoon feed, they should learn themselves to clear basic concepts and see how they are applied in practice. Given a situation that loads of information is available, students should see how they can use the time available to carry out some actionable small projects rather than just doing internship in large companies just to earn a certificate. Most students feel this is one important thing in the resume, it is actually not, most interviewers may not give weightage to what actually you have done, but ask a question, just to see if you are able to explain the concept clearly. So would it not be a good idea to do a project that you like with all the information that is available in public domain rather than earn a certificate.
Some companies really take the internship of students seriously, but they provide a topic and seek a solution that is actionable, these companies pay a stipend during the internship and provide all support during the internship. When students come across such opportunities they need to prepare themselves and interact with industry experts to come up with actionable solutions.

It is not possible that students wait with hope endlessly, so my advice would be that students should do as many as smaller projects with industry visits and develop reports and this will help them a long way in their career as professionals. The industry, I am sure will accommodate short visits by a small group of students with no hesitation. Most industry shy away from internship because it is a responsibility. It is important students self-certify themselves before anyone can certify them, it is beyond doubt the moment one has done one or two small projects, the confidence would be high and there is no looking back thereafter.

On one hand, the government does seem to recognize the seriousness but is just not able to create enough jobs so has put the issue in back burner, on the other hand Educationist have a huge responsibility to push the government to ensure that there is an improved Institute –Industry interaction for skill development. The gap is just widening every year. This is not a healthy sign for a society with huge young population.

K. Mohamed Shaffi – formerly Chief Executive officer of Tecton Engineering & Construction, India is a Charted Engineer and a Water & Waste Water treatment specialist. He holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering and post graduate degree in Management. He has held several leadership positions with significant responsibilities in organizations that he worked in the past.


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