Friday, February 26, 2021

More questions than answers as GVS replaces internship program

It should be a cause for concern when youth graduates are flippantly tossed between programs that are not in any way targeted at addressing their deprivation of economic opportunities.

Botswana’s youth represent an invaluable resource that has potential to propel the economy and foster growth and development, but it seems the youth empowerment schemes that have been put in place do not necessarily reflect their needs and aspirations. Because money is becoming a scarce resource, youth empowerment schemes should be targeted at programs that can generate economic opportunities and allow graduates to realize maximum value.

Sunday Standard is aware that the national internship program has been halted and will cease to absorb graduates, as they will now be placed in the Graduate Volunteer Scheme (GVS).

Information has surfaced that graduates are routinely turned away when they knock on the internship office doors and instructed to apply for GVS. Louis Malikongwa, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture (MYSC) refused to answer questions on the matter, saying:

“I am not ready for an interview. Call the office to ask for assistance.” When asked who the questions should be specifically directed to at MYSC, he suggested the toll free number. The national internship program was launched six years ago and hailed as an appropriate intervention meant to prepare graduates for the world of work. This was after the private sector complained that local graduates are often not ready for employment.

Four months ago, National Internship Program Director Boitshepo Bolele reiterated government’s commitment to the program, adding that it will be overhauled to balance the expectations of both interns and organizations. Bolele admitted the flaws of the program, among them the fact that it was skewed towards assessing the needs of interns without taking into consideration those of the industry. Previously, the department would facilitate arbitrary placement of interns on receiving requests from companies.

As a result, the program worked more like a placement agency, with little consideration of the interns’ learning experience, given that it did not track their performance and needs of placement companies. The internship program cost government about P92 million every year. Since its inception in 2008 it has absorbed more than 10, 000 interns into various sectors of the economy. Latest figures indicate that in January 2015, there were 4,912 active interns placed in the program, working in government, non-government organizations, private sector and parastatals. 5,764 interns were on the waiting list, 2900 of which were Information Communication Technology (ICT) graduates.

The internship program was specific and strict in its intent, which was to make interns employment ready through on the job training and experience. Proponents of the program vehemently rejected the notion that it was designed to respond to the unemployment scourge.

However, the program achieved meagre results in terms of facilitating interns’ graduation into permanent employment. Out of 5,934 interns only 1,340 managed to secure permanent jobs, representing less than 25 percent. The decision to revamp the program was preceded by a consultative exercise involving industry representatives, who were engaged in a bid to establish a set of industry standards that would guide placement of interns. The department partnered with the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) through a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in order to assist and ensure creation of the industry standards. After consulting industry representatives, WUSC was expected to further assist in drafting an accompanying set of tools for assessment of placements and monitoring tools for the program.

There were expectations that the internship program will result in an improved and meaningful experience for both interns and organizations. It was therefore disappointing to learn that the whole exercise was an act of futility as the program had been terminated.

For many, it seems premature for government to pull the plug on the program without first determining if the recommended changes would facilitate empowerment of interns so they become agents of development. Questions abound and no answers are forthcoming. What has changed that was not a factor when the decision to overhaul the internship program was taken? The introduction of GVS came hardly a month after a meeting between MYSC and industry representatives to discuss how the internship program could be improved.

Another question could be: What is different about GVS? What will it achieve that the internship program failed to do? A similarity that is immediately picked up about the two programs is that both seek to improve the employability of graduates through providing on the job training and experience.

A stark difference is the compensation attached to the programs for services rendered by graduates; the internship provides an allowance of P1, 400 whereas GVS provides a meal allowance of P600. The GVS allowance was justified by its nature as a volunteerism program introduced to target graduate youth who are unemployed but also not in the internship program. It places greater attention on community development projects based in rural districts.

Placement therefore is dependent on availability of accommodation where the graduate is engaged. GVS also accommodates graduates who have completed the internship program and are willing to continue as volunteers. GVS will only continue to do what the internship program did, which was to curb idleness. The real meat of the issue at hand, being lack of economic opportunities, continues to be evaded.

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