There are many articles that have been written, and continue to be, around the concept of a “skills gap” or “skills shortage”. More and more South Africans are matriculating, getting their tertiary qualifications, yet struggle to find a job in the workplace. There are a large percentage of graduates who are taking (often unpaid) internships simply to get a foot in the door.

This problem is a very real one for employers too. Although more and more people are qualifying, they are not properly equipped with skills needed in the workplace. They have the theoretical knowledge, but often lack the actual know-how.

What can be seen is that the skills needed and the skills taught are two very different things. This disconnect between the two highlights how schools and tertiary institutions are not currently able to teach all the necessary practical skills needed. The speed at which technology is changing far outstrips the speed at which syllabuses can be changed and updated.

There is also another fundamental flaw in the education and skills provision afforded to new graduates – the fact that education and training rarely, or almost never measures technical ability. Theoretical skills are good, but being able to actually do the job is a very different skill set. Because of this lack of technical ability there is a need to “learn on-the-job”, but getting a job with no experience is also extremely challenging.

What is good to know, is that there is something that businesses can do about this – meaningful internships. Not the type of internships where the interns are stuck in an office out of sight and out of mind, where their day consists of photocopying and making coffee. These types of internships certainly add no value to the intern and do nothing for that particular industry as a whole. The intern often leaves demotivated and having a dislike for the career they have chosen. A truly meaningful internship is one where the employee is prepared, and plans, to add value to the intern and the industry – an internship which provides real practical hands-on work, where the tasks and responsibilities contribute to the bottom line.

The biggest benefit to the intern is they have an opportunity to bridge their theoretical knowledge, but they have the benefit of a support structure to guide them as well. Businesses benefit too. They are able to identify future employees and then have an opportunity to test out junior talent before hiring. It starts with the business not just simply taking on any intern that applies, but taking the time to recruit interns that have the right fit for the business. Interns are also a low-cost (good interns are never free) source of skills, and they have the ability to provide not only an extra set of hands, but a different perspective, new techniques and fresh, untainted ideas. By placing the intern with existing employees, the team will quickly be able to see if they will continue to add value as a permanent team member.

The hiring of interns, and giving them meaningful work experience, improves not only their skills and CVs, but adds value to the business and the industry they operate in. Therefore, here is the challenge to all businesses: Yes, there is a drastic “skills gap” that needs addressing. So lets DO something about it. Consider an internship programme to better not only the industry you operate within, but the country as a whole.