Internship programmes should be about employment, advancement and fair remuneration

A fair stipend should be mandatory for internship programmes for learners to cover necessary expenses.

Momentum Metropolitan’s portfolio head of youth employment Nkosinathi Mahlangu says that while the learnerships are important for students to gain experience, they should not be used as a tool to exploit young labour.

“This rite of passage is essential in helping learners gain the necessary experience and training that will contribute to their earning a proper salary in a good job someday. However, what I do take issue with is exploiting young labour in what should clearly be a paid position,” he says.

Nkosinathi says a fair stipend should be mandatory to cover the cost of transportation to and from the office, as well as other costs incurred by the learner.

“You’ve no doubt seen it before. A job ad, disguised as a call for interns, with a list of role requirements as long as your arm, several of which you’re pretty sure fall within the definitely more-senior ambit. Remuneration? Well… nothing. But do not despair: the job – sorry – internship promises an “amazing opportunity” for growth,” says Nkosinathi.

He points out that around two-thirds of the young people in South Africa are without work. “We also have the world’s highest Gini coefficient – a universal yardstick of statistical dispersion intended to represent the wealth inequality within a nation or a social group. In other words, South Africa has the most severe disparity between rich and poor in the world. Eye-opening. Jaw-dropping. Hair-raising. These are the kinds of cold, hard facts that do all the things to one’s face.”

Nkosinathi says job placement programmes need to be interrogated and assessed to ensure that they are doing what they are intended to do, which is to upskill and secure employment for youth – employment that offers competitive remuneration.

“What is competitive remuneration? This is defined as a salary that is in line with labour laws as well as the industry benchmark for similar jobs in that same geographical region.

“As head of youth employment, which forms part of Momentum Metropolitan’s Corporate Social Investment (CSI) mandate, a key function of my portfolio is sourcing non-profit organisation (NPO) partners that have demonstrated consistent success in job placement, establishing effective networks with roots that reach deeply into the communities that our business serves. Selection is congruent with our agenda of driving transformation for marginalised groups, with a focus on race, gender and disability,” Nkosinathi shares.

He says the company’s mandate does not end at employment, but also incorporates the need for competitive remuneration.

The private sector, he says, needs to step into the role of a genuine partner. “We need to empower our NPOs to drive forward our vision, through educating their employment partners on the need for a fair wage that advances transformation and does not simply create a class of working poor.”

“One area where NPOs and the private sector have consistently got it wrong is treating internships as job placement. Learnerships or internships are a key part of the employability journey and they should serve as the workplace experience phase of our programmes, but these are not actual, paying jobs. We cannot count these as job placements in our programmes, and consider our work done once a young person is in an internship.

“With the current high levels of employment, job placement programmes need to focus on jobs that allow learners the opportunity to acquire skills that result in their earning a living wage while creating pathways for growth and career progression.

Job placement programmes should be prioritised based on skills that are in demand. “We don’t need more programmes that train for the sake of training – we need programmes with employment, advancement and fair remuneration as the end goal,” Nkosinathi concludes.