Getting coffee is not a skill
The internship system in the Philippines is broken. As anyone who has graduated from a local university knows, students are required a certain number of on-the-job (OJT) hours at a company in their field. A communications student would intern at a media agency, for example, while a peer in business administration would intern at a corporation.
The problem is that in most cases, interns are not getting specialized training. No matter where they take their internship, most students are running through the same gamut of menial tasks, such as getting coffee for their superiors, photocopying documents or encoding data. Now, don’t get me wrong: Interns should be not above performing low-level tasks, but this should not comprise all our work. We should be assigned higher-level tasks that provide us training related to our course and prepare us for our future career.
This ideal is hard to achieve. The underlying issue is that the primary criterion of local internships is time. That is, interns are expected to complete X number of hours as their primary goal, even if they may be secondary, typically overlooked qualitative goals. In this time-based system, both interns and employers are focused on time sheets, days worked and hours rendered, rather than objective skills — what interns are trying to develop.
This system also makes it harder for employers to compare experiences once students do graduate. Between a student who logged 200 hours at a corporation and another who logged 200 hours at a social enterprise, who is better prepared? Most hiring managers would be unable to tell, even though one could have had far richer skill-building experiences in their post, depending on their manager, team and scope of work. Unfortunately, neither the intern nor the employer is getting this insight as the system is still a slave to the almighty hour.
We must move past the clock. Instead of pegging the aspiring journalist to complete 200 OJT hours, his internship should be considered complete only once he has published an article under his own byline or, even more ambitiously, an entire portfolio of work. Interns could even have objective and key results (OKRs), the famous goal-setting system used by Google, wherein each worker has a key goal, and measurable key results that help track its progress.
Setting a skill rather than time-based goals would accelerate learning, give interns better preparation for the workforce and grant employers more insight into prospective fresh graduates. Realistically, it would be impossible to adopt a universal skill-based system nationwide, across tens of thousands of different universities and employers. Students must therefore take more responsibility when choosing who they intern with, to ensure that they spend their time at an organization conducive to their growth and would take an active role in developing a roadmap for their internship.
Startups make for an interesting choice for the would-be intern. Many startups are part of an incubator or accelerator, and they can themselves be an incubator or accelerator for interns looking to learn and learn fast. By definition, startups are fast-growth organizations. In this kind of ever-changing environment, everyone — interns included — are encouraged to pitch in where they can, even for tasks that go beyond their initial role. The right attitude is key here. Rather than look at this as extra work, interns should see it as a chance to stretch themselves toward new capabilities, some of which they may have never even imagined doing.
At my internship at Ambidextr, for example, which is backed by Future Now Ventures, I have done everything from media relations and business development to operations and marketing. This kind of breadth is useful for any intern, and it’s particularly in mine, since communication professionals are expected to be generalists. We must be able to capably handle any aspect of an organization’s communications and deep-dive into any one when necessary. My sense of fulfillment comes from simple reflection: I know I am not the same person I was three months ago.
I would encourage other interns to look for startups where they can experience the same exponential personal and professional growth. Talk to the founders of organizations you may want to intern at, and see if you could codevelop a plan that accounts for not only time, but skill. What will you learn quicker here than anywhere else? If you can answer this question together, you may have found a place to call home.
* * *
Diana Princess Yamashita, 23, is a journalism student from Colegio de San Juan de Letran-Manila.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.