An Internship program changed the life of a Kenyan and how interns are catalysts to Digital Transformation in Businesses

Oct 2, 2017

A story of how an internship program changed a life. Microsoft 4Afrika’s Interns4Afrika initiative is providing a platform for Africans to develop and build skills. 

The internship program offers young enthusiastic people an exciting experience with Microsoft and Microsoft partner organizations. You get to apply learnt knowledge, learn and develop new skill sets on the job. With this offer you work for 6 months on real projects and collaborate and learn from your colleagues as well. 

Lutz Ziob, Dean of the Microsoft 4Afrika Academy shares on internship and why interns can be essential ingredients for companies undergoing digital transformation. 

internship program

Photo : PC Tech Magazine

Six months ago, a young Kenyan named Gilbert Ngetich was living in Gataka, a slum on the outskirts of Nairobi. Unemployed, but with a deep passion for learning, Gilbert would study by himself in a men’s washroom, as it was the only accessible place with good light and an electrical socket. 

Today, Gilbert has a full-time job as a Cloud Engineer at M2M Systems Limited, a partner of Microsoft. One of the first tasks in his role was to travel to the international Microsoft Inspire conference in Washington D.C, to learn, network and make new business contacts. It was the first time Gilbert had ever flown on an aeroplane. 

When interns, like Gilbert, enter the Interns4Afrika program, many of them have never heard of cloud computing, data analytics or machine learning. But we have seen how interns, even if only a few weeks into the program, are being entrusted by their host organisations to take on responsibilities that are unheard of for an intern. Similarly, we find that our graduates become very employable in digital marketing or technical services roles.  

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The value of internship programs

Internships are a necessary piece of the puzzle – bridging the last-mile skills gap between job-seekers and employers. Internships give youth the on-the-job experience and workforce skills they need to shape their career, while employers can scout for the best talent, gain fresh perspectives and access to youth who grew up as digital natives.

For companies undergoing digital transformation, an internship program could in fact be one of the best investments they make. Interns are, by nature, hungry to learn, highly coachable and more than willing to adjust to changes and disruptions in your business. Because they are less bound by old experiences, they are more agile, which can mean accelerated transformation.

What caused this change? An internship program.

An interesting scenario in Africa 

We face a perplexing and unsustainable scenario in Africa. On the one hand, we have high levels of youth unemployment. South Africa’s unemployment rate, for example, recently hit its highest level in 13 years. In the next 20 years, over 330 million young Africans are expected to enter the job market, but only a third of them will be able to find wage jobs.

On the other hand, we have companies struggling to find and hire the right talent to remain relevant and competitive in the digital transformation era. Like Gilbert, who before had never heard of a Cloud Engineer, the 2016 World Economic Forum Report on growing economies in Africa reports that 65% of schoolchildren today will work in jobs that don’t exist yet. It adds that only 1% of these children currently completing school will have the required digital skills.

Bridging this skills gap needs to begin at school level. To effectively tackle the youth unemployment problem, we need to provide youth with improved access to the internet, devices and curriculum aligned to future job prospects. We need to identify the very skills that will get them employed and then deploy efficient learning approaches that will help them acquire these skills that lead to exciting career opportunities.

A large number of multinational corporations, including Microsoft, have launched free online learning platforms, designed to upskill millions of young Africans. But online learning – although providing a fundamental base – is not enough. 

Internship Programs and Digital transformation 

As important as hard skills are, there is also a deficiency in workforce skills, including communication, collaboration, agility and leadership. As we navigate through the fourth industrial revolution of business, these skills are becoming increasingly vital. When we speak about digital transformation, we don’t only speak about organisations implementing technology advancements. We also speak about cultural changes. Technology enables more collaborative, productive and agile working environments – and youth need the skills, attitudes and professionalism to successfully navigate these.

Workforce skills are often best acquired in real-world working environments. What we need, therefore, is a blended learning methodology, combining online learning with real-world, hands-on experiences. Interns4Afrika is one of the programs that combines the appropriate what (i.e. skills and capabilities needed), with an effective how (i.e. results-driven learning and training methodologies).

As Arkadi Kuhlmann, founder and CEO of ING Direct USA, said in an interview: “If you want to renew and re-energise an industry, don’t hire people from that industry. You’ve got to untrain them and then retrain them. I’d rather hire a jazz musician or a dancer. They can learn about banking. It’s much harder for bankers to unlearn their bad habits.”
For this reason, the Harvard Business Review coined a new mantra: Hire for attitude. Train for skill. 

There are employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for African youth. What they need is the ability to adapt.

With any internship program, it is important to support the onboarding process;

provide training in marketing, sales and digital/technology areas; develop general workplace productivity skills; and offer regular coaching support and peer-to-peer mentoring.

It may seem like a lot of work, but the investment more than often proves worthwhile. Of the 400 internships Microsoft 4Afrika has driven, 80% – 100% of these graduates (depending on the region) have gone on to secure full-time employment – often with their host organisations.

There are employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for African youth. What they need is the ability to adapt to the changing economic needs and master the digital and vocational skills necessary to succeed in evolving business environments.

Modern technology is changing the way we work, learn, communicate, collaborate and entertain ourselves. It is essential for our youth to understand this digital transformation and seize the new, exciting opportunities being created by it. Africa’s youth need to find ways of participating in the process, or better, become the driving forces behind it. 

As Dean of the Microsoft 4Afrika Academy, Lutz Ziob’s job is to ensure that Microsoft 4Afrika delivers opportunities for Africans to create world class skills. This means providing world-class education services, both online and offline to help develop skills for improved employability, entrepreneurship and global competitiveness. The 4Afrika Academy will offer technical, business and leadership skills to students, government leaders and the broad Microsoft partner community in Africa.