For most Zimbabwean tertiary students it is usually a nightmare when it is time for attachment or internship. Getting attachment places in Zimbabwe is not easy and many have even had to defer because of that. Let’s look at some topical issues relating to the subject of internships in Zimbabwe. Let me start by looking at what an internship is all about.

What Is Internship?

Internship refers to an arrangement where tertiary students are hired by companies to gain industrial experience. Students can be from vocational training centres, colleges, or universities, amongst others. An internship’ duration varies spanning from just a few months to even over a year. Internships can be salaried or not; it usually depends on where one is attached.

Why Are Internships Hard To Come By In Zimbabwe?

Broadly I would say it all starts with two major problems which feed into each other; plus a third one actually. One, industrial activity in Zimbabwe is very low; many industries are operating way below capacity. This means the number of places where they are looking to hire is quite low. Most companies have had to even retrench some of their workers or close shop altogether. So this is the foundational problem where it all starts. Two, tertiary learning institutions are excessively enrolling a student population way beyond what the industries can accommodate. That is why it is not surprising to find most students struggling to land a place of attachment.

You would wonder why learning institutions are taking in too many students but the reason is quite clear. They might not admit but it is largely about making more money at the expense of proper student welfare. The third problem that has further compounded all this is the pandemic. Places for attachment have further gone done because more companies have scaled down their staff or have shut down their operations.

I could also add that learning institutions no longer actively do what they traditionally used to do. Back then it was the norm that learning institutions would actively secure internships for their students. It was far easier because learning institutions would simply use their influence and networks. Most students would reach attachment time already having a definite place of attachment to go to. I am not quite sure why that fizzled out over the years.

Another important point to add is that enrolment criteria have been heavily compromised nowadays. If you have the money you can enrol for almost any program you want. I personally know of one particular university where without any prior application you can go on registration days and be entered into a program of your choice. This also means that even unqualified students can now easily get enrolled. No wonder enrolment can just surge out of control. I have also noticed that there are certain programs where many students are applying for and getting enrolled. No offence but one of those programs is Development Studies. At the end of the day come attachment time, there will be a huge pool of students looking for attachment in the same largely limited companies.

The Undesirable Outcomes

One of the disturbing outcomes is that students are ending up settling for internships far removed from their academic programs. I have seen so many students on attachment largely running errands and nothing else. You ever wonder what industrial experience they get from that. Assessments, reports, and projects end up being fabricated just to formalize that someone was on attachment. It is no mystery why most companies are complaining about the incompetence of most graduate trainees. An internship is supposed to give a student the platform to gain invaluable industrial experience but it never gets to be so for many. Most companies now capitalise on students looking for attachment as cheap labour. The truth is the vast majority of internships in Zimbabwe are not salaried. Couple that with the fact the student will be dealing with duties at variance with their field of study; what you get is an unpolished student.

What Can Be Done?

Well, if the economy is fixed most of these issues will just go away. However, there is a lot that most of us can do to address these problems. For starters, learning institutions must be objective when it comes to enrolment. They must enrol a reasonable number of students; they actually know the numbers that constitute a healthy balance later. They also need to go back to that convenience of securing internships for their students; they have what it takes to do that. Employers also have a role to play – they must ensure that students get actual industrial experience. It also goes a long way if they can at least compensate them in some way. Then I feel if more business could formalize their operations we can have more places where students can get attached. Many businesses are running informally and as such, they cannot be considered as places of attachment.

I would love to hear your inputs on this issue. Kindly share your contributions in the comments below. Maybe you are a student due for attachment or were once on attachment before. What was your own experience like; let us have that discussion in the comments below?