Recently, some students from one of the higher education institutions visited my office in search of an opportunity to do their practical training at our office. They narrated to me how they have been going around various offices in Dar es Salaam looking for such opportunities in vain.
As the time for commencing their field placement closes in, they are afraid they might not be able to obtain an opportunity to do their practical training and submit a report to their institution and therefore miss their practical training academic marks.
There are many such students who face the same challenges every academic year and some of them end up desperately missing practical training after they fail to get places to do their field work.
The practice of gaining supervised practical experience is nothing new and in fact ancient references are found to apprenticeships from thousand of years ago. Even philosophers such as Plato, Socrates and others had apprentices who were learning some skills under their supervision.
The main aim of the program is to produce graduates with the requisite human relations, critical thinking and methodological/ technical skills to solve problems by linking theoretical training in classrooms and its application in real life situations.
Coco, M. in her book “A Try Before You Buy Arrangement” released in 2000, argues that supervised practical trainings are very similar to apprenticeships or internships with exposure to real-world problems and issues in a manner that cannot be offered in a classroom environment. All stakeholders, that is students, education institutions, employers and beneficiaries, believe that gaining practical work experience during an educational program are beneficial and complement the students’ academic work.
Some of the benefits cited by Coco are:
(a) A better understanding of how classroom concepts are related to practical application;
(b) Improved knowledge of industry as it relates to career paths;
(c) Definition of career ambitions;
(d) Reduced shock when entering the workplace, and
(e) A possibility of faster advancement than non-interns, especially when they have mastered well the job skills.
Although we all acknowledge that practical training is very essential for students in higher education institutions, many students face a lot of challenges when searching for placement to do their practical training.
This is due to the fact that both public and private companies, institutions and departments do not accept students for practical training. Some of these institutions have even stopped taking students for practical training due to various reasons.
In one instance, at least ten students from various institutions told me that nowadays in order to obtain field placement for practical training, one needs to have connections. That is a relative or someone you know in the organization. One lady even told me how she was requested for sexual favours in order to obtain field placement. Others said at least you have to give “something” other wise you will not be considered in that institution.
Another challenge is obtaining poor supervision and support during the practical training from both the academic staff and the staff in the institutions where students do their practical training. In April last year, my niece who studies industrial relations in one of the colleges in Dar es Salaam managed to obtain field placement at one of the public authorities. She was assigned to the legal department.
According to the practical training guidelines from her college, they were supposed to be involved and mentored in various industrial legal issues including drafting and support in solving some labour cases. However, upon their arrival they were assigned to the registry and given a task to write summaries of the cases in the files, the work which they did for the whole practical training period.
They had very little supervision and mentoring from the staff in the department. In addition, their academic staff from college did not visit them during the whole period of practical training. At the end of the practical training they were required to write a report. They had very little information of what the legal department in that authority is doing such that they had to ‘cook’ the information adding up activities they actually did not do, in order to obtain something tangible to submit at the college.
We have also heard of students’ practical allowances being delayed or of some courses not being included in provision of allowances for practical trainings. This has resulted in boycotts and eventually unnecessary confrontations.
There are some reasons which some institutions give as to why they refrain from taking students for practical training anymore. One time this discussion rose up in the online network of Tanzania Professionals (TPN), of which I am a member. Someone commented that previously, he had tried to provide field placement for students but he was totally disappointed such that he suggested that before students are given field placement they should be given career guidance and counseling (of which is not given in our academic institutions nowadays).
He commented that students needed a high level of mentorship and counselling in order for them to understand the logic behind practical training. Sometimes they simplify the essence of practical training and life in general. According to his experience, many students show unaccepted behaviour at work such as drunkenness, truancy, many excuses for not accomplishing tasks, spending more time chatting on facebook or other social networks than accomplishing their tasks, selecting kind of tasks to be given (some of them refuse to be assigned field tasks especially in rural areas).
Moreover, some of them cannot work independently with minimum supervision and cannot meet challenges of working in rural areas such as places to sleep or kind of food obtained in villages, they do not want to wake up very early, do not want to perform manual and hard tasks! By mid day they complain that they are tired! Its pure laziness character!
He further commented that they can be given travel allowances at government rates, but spend all of their allowances even before they travel to their destinations. At the end they demand to be supported in paying for their food and lodging. In one instance, he explained that once some students obtain their travel allowances they go straight and spend it on the phone they longed to obtain for a long time.
Generally speaking, the above experience shows that many students have shown irresponsibility on their duties and work discipline, the experience which has resulted into many companies and institutions refraining from accepting students for practical training.
There was one case where I am working where some practical students from university were given a task of data entry. Despite proper instructions they did the work so badly such that the IT staff had to conduct another exercise of data refinement.
My advice to students who manage to obtain field placement for practical training is that they should be ready to do any assignment provided and be ready to work in every environment-whether in rural or urban areas.
After all if you are studying courses such as social work or community development, you should be aware that most of the opportunities are based in rural areas. You should therefore expect working in fields in areas such as Makete, Namtumbo, Sumbawanga, Mpanda, Loliondo and so on and therefore be ready to take the challenge. After all, in rural areas that’s where we need professionals to support development.
TPN members advised that students should be counselled to understand that once they obtain field placement, they should work hard and ensure they obtain the necessary skills for expanding their employment horizons in future as they can obtain people to recommend them in future.
Students should also learn some work skills such as mastering basic computer programs such as MS (Word, Excell, power point etc), obtain language competency in both English and Swahili, negotiation skills and son depending on their field of study.
While there are still many students who face challenges in obtaining field placement for practical training in various organisations, and employers’ motivations towards taking students for practical training seem to dwindle each year, there are some people who have volunteered to support students to obtain field placement in various organisations. I would like to appreciate the efforts by Rosemary Mwakitwange at EABMTI, who has been receiving letters from students and connecting them with various organisations depending on their needs and areas of study.
It is true that there are some students who are irresponsible. However, there are those who are serious and when given an opportunity and proper instructions and mentorship, they can be better resources to organisations’ activities; thus provide a “boomerang” effect on both sides-the organisation and the student.
I, therefore, call upon public and private organisations, companies, institutions and departments to open up field placements opportunities for more students to allow more students to obtain essential work skills, as eventually they are expected to serve our nation as professionals.
On the other side, academic institutions should ensure they prepare their students for practical training by providing them with essential behaviour counselling and skills they need to posses in order to fit in during practical training.
The writer is a specialist in Education Management, Economics of Education, Planning and Policy Studies. He can be reached through 0754 304181 or firstname.lastname@example.org