Interns Hungry for Experience. Public Couldn't Care Less

Jul 17 , 2022
By Eden Sahle

Over the past few weeks, I met several university students desperate for a good internship opportunity. Serving in an internship role for a semester is necessary to graduate from most undergraduate programmes in Ethiopia. The problem was not finding an institution that would give them the position and sign a piece of paper that says they participated. The headache is finding a place, especially in the public sector, that takes internships seriously and helps them prepare for the labour market.

Public sector institutions have no problem writing the students glowing recommendations for their respective universities. They cannot, nonetheless, be bothered to give them anything to do during the internship. Institutions are telling students they have no work for them and that they do not need to come in daily. They are informed they can just come to collect their recommendation letter at the end of the internship period. When students insist on coming, they are kept idle and sit the entire day hearing the personal chitchat of the public servants.

Meanwhile, these same institutions take customers’ time for several days only to direct one letter from one department to another.

Persons who are supposed to mentor and encourage the next generation are passing on their inefficiencies and carelessness under the witness of the observing public. They are teaching them to do the bare minimum to get salaries at the end of the month. It is a tragedy.

The students are perceived as threats. The public servants seem to believe that any increase in productivity will be left to them to make up for once the students leave. They are not ashamed to say that the young students are ruining their comfortable and pressureless work style by actively engaging at work and serving clients swiftly. They worry the students can replace them.

This problem is not only faced by students. Fresh graduates that enter the workforce have similar stories to tell. Many in the job sector have passed through this challenge that denied them the opportunity to offer their skills and prepare for their careers. Every student strives to get an internship opportunity in the private sector because that is where they have a higher chance of being allowed to be productive.

Our public institutions lack the understanding that higher education internships aim to prepare students to succeed in their future careers and test their skills. They fail to grasp that these students have a certain level of academic knowledge and creativity that provide value to institutions.

The developed nations’ colleges and universities prioritise this type of learning, requiring all students to partake in internship work experience because of its various benefits. For Ethiopia, many public hospitals and most private sectors are great local examples proving how invaluable the hands-on experience is, allowing interns to put theory to practice.

This experiential learning is a great way to get a taste of the professional experience in a particular field. It is an excellent approach to helping students forge important professional lessons and connections before graduation. Unlike how it’s undermined in Ethiopia, an internship is a stepping stone to additional opportunities. It helps them gain real experience that can give them a competitive advantage as they pursue a permanent position.

Many private organisations use these internship opportunities to hunt for potential employees. Internships allow employers time to assess a student for competency, drive, and commitment. Employers I know say that most of the best talent they recruited was through internship programmes.

Young students often offer fresh eyes and an unparalleled enthusiasm for the task they are given. They can happily take on the tasks existing employees do not necessarily want to do. They bring to the organisation new perspectives, energy, and specialised skill.

If anyone doubts that university students have nothing to offer, think again. Last week, I came across a project by a student who created functional software and automated teller machine (ATM) technology that the commercial banks have spent millions of dollars buying from developed countries.

How can any organisation receive such talent for free or almost free and dare to waste it?

Those of us already in the labour force are responsible for offering interns an opportunity so that they can contribute to healing the nation’s severe skills gap and exacerbating youth unemployment. Solving Ethiopia’s economic and political crisis requires bringing fresh perspectives from the young that are coming with new understanding and solutions.

Maybe in their long daily closed meetings, public servants should admit that customers are not complaining for no reason. It would not hurt them to give interns the benefit of the doubt and receive their support to transform public institutions’ way of conducting work.

PUBLISHED ON Jul 17,2022 [ VOL 23 , NO 1159]

Eden Sahle is founder and CEO of Yada Technology Plc. She has studied law with a focus on international economic law. She can be reached at

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