This article is part of an assignment in which I tested the DataForager software to support my research for this article.
Kenyans this week have been debating an issue that seems common to companies everywhere: should companies offer unpaid internships? Internship debates always highlight strong underlying social disagreements about employer fairness, education, and the purpose of work. How do those themes play out in Kenya, where at last report, 38% percent of Kenyan young people between 15 and 29 are neither students nor employed? (pdf, p74)
On Twitter, Jackie LifestyleDiva asks if this is a genuine debate:
#payinterns …who are we talking to here? as far as i’m concerned the ‘interns’ are talking to themselves here on twitter.
— Jackie LifestyleDiva (@thelifestylediv) May 14, 2012
Who is actually talking about #PayInterns? According to a Global Voices article by Ndesanjo Macha, the online debate began with a tweet by tech blogger Robert Alai, asking tweeps to ask companies if they pay interns. The story escalated into a general conversation about internship pay, with some companies even tweeting details of just how much they pay their interns.
What is a typical internship?
Here are some internships I found on Kenyan job listing sites like JobsEastAfrica247, Dealfish, TipTopJobs, the InternKenya blog, and the University of Nairobi’s jobs and internships website page.
The Kenyan Association of Manufacturers recently posted 3-6 month unpaid internships in policy research and advocacy for advanced students and recent graduates. They do not offer the possibility of employment after the internship. This looks like a classic unpaid internship, occuring over an extended period with no offer of tangible outcomes.
The multinational investment bank Renaissance Group offers a much better internship (though apparently unpaid). This two-month programme offers training in specific areas and promises an opportunity to join the Renaissance Academy, the bank’s training scheme for incoming employees.
ACTED, an NGO, has offered an internships with a $300 USD/month living allowance, in addition to reimbursement for accommodation, food, travel, and life insurance. The reporting internship lasts six months, but unlike the investment bank opportunity, offers no promises of future work. At $300/month plus insurance and expenses, the internship offers nearly as much value as the median salary of administrative assistants in Kenya, according to PayScale.com. But the internship is advertised globally- my guess is that Kenyan students only have a small chance on this one.
This IT Internship opportunity from Toolkit Solutions is for computer science students with their own laptops and 3G modem sticks. What do they get? Programming experience as well as unlimited monthly Internet paid for by the company.
Advice for Prospective Interns
Several of Kenya’s universities offer support for interns. The Strathmore University career development office organises a global internship fair. They also coordinate “Industrial Attachments” internships for 3rd year undergraduates which grant academic credit. The University of Kenya offers similar “placement services.”
So, Should we #PayInterns?
I think this is the wrong question. As we can see from the diversity of work experience opportunities (as well as discussion on #PayInterns), it’s more important for employers and prospective interns to choose arrangements that provide everyone with the value they need. The best internships, whether they offer reimbursment of pay, offer training, work experience, networks, and a job opportunity at the end. I have seen plenty of well-paid internships where employers don’t offer any training and interns leave with no experience beyond the coffee machine and the file cabinet.
Overall, I think Kenyan employers are doing a bad job of signaling what students get out of internships. Too many internship listings include a page or more about the kind of applicant they expect, with no mention of what they plan to offer to their interns, pay or not. Companies with no plan for delivering learning and mentorship to interns have a problem much deeper than pay.
A company may choose not pay interns, but it does have a responsibility to make sure interns get something valuable out of the experience.