Too often I hear job seekers complain that employers don’t consider them for employment because they don’t have the requisite experience or any experience needed for the job. They say “how can we get the experience when no one is willing to hire us?” For them, it’s a “catch 22” situation where they are unable to acquire a job because they do not have work experience and have no job experience because they have not worked before.
In developed countries, most times by the time a student has graduated from either high school or college, that person has had a bit of working experience and some sort of resume with to present to employers. It may not even be in their area of study, but at least there is a history of employment and working experience.
A few years back, eight high school students were sent to my organization as “vacation students” to get a feel of the working environment and what it means to work in an office. A few days into their vacation work experience, I decided to give a filing assignment to one of the students. The young man was about sixteen, always smartly and neatly dressed and quite composed. I handed him the papers and the box files with the instruction to “file them in chronological order”.
The young man stared at me with a puzzled look. So I figured the word “chronological” was too big for him and then said “file them in order of date, with the most recent date being at the top and oldest date at the bottom”. He still looked puzzled and then sheepishly asked “Mrs. Moore, wetin dey call file?” (What do you mean by “file?”) For a moment I wanted to laugh at the fact that someone wouldn’t know something as simple as “filing”, but then realize this was the very essence for the vacation job experience: To give them an idea of what to expect in the working environment in years to come. I cannot begin to describe the enthusiasm those kids showed towards their “jobs” and were usually the first in the office each day, willing and ready to learn and always asking questions. When their two months were up, I almost felt bereft when we told them goodbye but also felt a sense of fulfillment that they had something to reflect and reference if ever asked if they have worked before or been in a formal office setting.
This got me thinking that if most high schools and universities in Liberia could start to actively seek vacation school or internship opportunities with various organizations, it would better prepare the job seekers for the labour market. Internship is a good way for students or new graduates to obtain some working experience and have a foothold in the job market. This arrangement can be favorable to both the intern and the employer as it provides an opportunity for the graduates to apply what they have learned in school to a real-world environment, gain confidence, experience and even sometimes good networking opportunity because you may not obtain an employment with the organization you have interned with, but may just make an impression and could be recommended by someone to another organization.
For managers, it increases the chances of hiring good, dedicated employees which may even decrease turnover as you have had a chance to observe the person’s work style, ethics and performance over a period of time before making a hiring decision. It also provides an opportunity to groom someone to the organization’s culture and also provide an opportunity for “cheap labor”. The internship need not be overly costly and could initially cover only a reasonable stipend and transportation. I am positive that many job seekers in Liberia would be happy for this opportunity to learn and the chance for potential employment with the organization. I must say though that this should not be an opportunity to overwork and underpay someone just because “job business hard’ as we say in Liberia.
I know a few years back the Ministry of Youth and Sports started an internship and vacation student program, but do not know how effective or active it is or has been and I hope they have continued in their efforts to ensure our youth and upcoming graduates are afforded an opportunity to obtain more hands-on job experience. I also hope the program has received the support needed to ensure success. Perhaps even in time to come the government might consider adopting the national youth service program currently practiced in other African counties where graduates are assigned in various parts of the country and in various fields of study usually for about a year.
It is my hope that as the Liberian economy continues to expand and more companies are opened, managers will start to consider taking in interns and or vacation students with the aim of helping our youth gain the experience they need for the job market.
Originally published on October 9, 2013 on FrontPageAfrica