Interns and Internships - Everything you need to know!


The economy is changing rapidly and with it the talents, skills and experience required to be a part of that growth cycle are changing too. As a recent graduate trying to find a job can be stressful and that is simply due to IT job markets competitive nature. Applied learning and internship opportunities are integral in providing graduates with first-hand exposure to working in the corporate world and allowing graduates to harness the skill, knowledge and theoretical practice that they have learnt. (Maio, 2018)

First things first, what is an internship?

An internship can be defined as a short-term work experience offered by companies and organisations for people, generally students to get some entry-level exposure to a particular field or industry. (Zhang, n.d)

Why should you intern?

Apply education and exploring career options

Internships provide you with the opportunity to apply the knowledge you’ve learnt in the real-world. Therefore gaining real-world experience and hands-on career development.

Gain valuable experience

Taking part in an internship gives you experience in the career field you potentially want to pursue and allows you to take a step back to decide what you like and don’t like. The practical work experience derived from internships allows students to develop contacts, identify areas of interest, and gain an edge in an increasingly competitive job market.

Furthermore, as an intern you get the chance to work side by side with accomplished industry professionals and get a better idea of what an entry-level role in the corporate world might entail.


An internship allows you to build your professional network and connect with professionals who are in the career field you potentially want to pursue.


An internship can provide you with the soft skills you require in the workplace. Important skills include, communication, leadership, problem solving and teamwork can all be learned through an internship.

Learn from others

An internship gives you the opportunity to shadow and observe others in their job role in order to learn the ins and outs of different positions. This will also give you a better idea of which field you’d like to be in.

Competitive edge

Internships have become more and more common and valuable and employers expect to see them on resumes. Applicants who have previous work experience are much more competitive than those who don’t. Companies generally use internships as talent pipelines in order to fill their own full-time positions. Internships can help you figure out what you want to do with your career and then make it easier to land your first full-time job in that industry.

Possible future with the company

One of the perks about internships is that they can lead to a full-time job with a company. In fact, the promise of landing a full-time job is one of the main reasons why students consider unpaid internships in the first place.

[Source: Zhang, n.d]
[Source: WayUp, n.d]

What skills should you possess?

[Source: WayUp, n.d]

Do Interns get paid?

It all depends on the type of internship you do since there are paid and unpaid internships. Some industries are notorious for not paying their interns (or paying them poorly), while also requiring internships in order to get a foot in the door for full-time entry level jobs. Paid internships vary widely by industry and duration of the internship. Short-term interns, typically don’t receive health or other benefits that full-time employees get. According to an article written by Tom (2019) and Indeed (2020), the average interns salary is between R3940 and R5452 per month in South Africa which is close to minimum wage coming in between R3500 and R4500 per month. However, depending on the industry and size of the company, it could offer perks ranging from offering a handful of social events or vacation days.

Unpaid internships are questioned by many people as to why they even exist. In theory, unpaid internships are mostly learning rather than work experiences. For example there are many small companies that don't have the budgets to pay interns, but sometimes they can offer a lot more hands-on experience than larger companies. In order for an unpaid internship to be lawful, the intern should be benefiting more than the company.

Do Interns have to pay tax?

YES they do. Although interns are not regarded as employees, they are still expected to pay tax. Interns are liable to pay tax as they are considered to be earning an income. However, this only applies if they earn a monthly salary of R6 500 (or stipend) and above, which equates to an annual salary of R79 000 and more.[Source: Tom, 2019]

Who can apply for internships?

The beneficiaries of internships are the youth between the ages of 18 and 35 years who have not yet entered employment or who are unemployed. Applicants for internship opportunities must be South African citizens who live in South Africa and should be fluent in English. [Source: Bridge, 2015]

What do Interns do?

[Source: Loretto, 2019]

Duration of Internships

[Source: Loretto, 2019]

What factors should I consider when selecting an internship

  1. If the internship requires a qualification, make sure that the workplace will enable you to complete the prescribed practical learning activities.
  2. If there are any conditions and requirements relating to the specific internship ensure that the employers understands them and is aware of his responsibility to meet them.
  3. Ensure that the employer will provide the support you will need to complete the workplace learning activities

[Source: Bridge, 2015]

Tips for getting an internship

[Source: Zhang, n.d]

Do’s and don’ts during your internship period



[Source: The Aleit Academy, n.d]

The true value of an internship

The biggest value of an internship versus lecturing or learning is that with learning you learn intellectually the way things work but with an internship you learn the practical hands-on of how it works, what happens and how to make things work so it’s an accelerated learning curve. In an internship you learn ten times faster and ten times more than you would in any lecture because you are physically doing the work that you would normally just be learning about an internship.

With an internship you are learning what you are doing, whether what you are doing is something that you really enjoy and the company has the opportunity to see whether you add value practically to their company. An internship gives the candidate the opportunity to decide whether what they’re currently doing within the company is really something they’re interested in and passionate about and want to pursue. Furthermore, an internship gives the candidate the opportunity to experience what is it like working within a company and therefore the candidate can decide that this is really what they want to be doing as well as gives the company the opportunity to look at the applicant and decide if they’re a fit for the company.

An internship is not a simple and straightforward task and there will be many learning curves along the way which will give candidates an indication of their strengths and weaknesses within that specific field of work as well as learning the valuable skill of constructive criticism. An internship offers candidates the opportunity to grow as a person as well as set a foundation for their career. It also provides the opportunity for strategic direction to find the field that the candidate would like to pursue.


For employers, internships are a lot of things such as a super extended interview, a training program, and (frequently) a smart way to hire for open roles. This means some university students can walk into their senior years with job offers in hand which ultimately reduces their stressful last year at university. An internship initiative is a human capital development solution for the unemployed community as well as is a cost-effective way to make a difference and find quality talent for your company.

As an employer, if your company is not directly involved with the youth you may at first be hesitant to include young people in your work. Although young people lack certain work and life experiences, they possess valuable skills and insights that adults do not possess. Therefore, offering an internship program will benefit both your company as well as the intern since it will help the intern develop necessary skills they require in the workplace - creating a win-win situation. Below are the opportunities that internships offer both the employer as well as the youth.

Opportunities created for employers when implementing an internship

Opportunities created for interns when taking part in an internship

How an internship programme can benefit your bottom line?

[Source: Proud Africa, 2018]

Issues surrounding Intern compensation - Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

[Source: Think HR, 2018]

What should you be paying interns?

[Source: Think HR, 2018]

Practical Tips for Hiring Interns

[Source: Think HR, 2018]

Is an intern the right choice for your company?

[Source: Richmond, n.d]

The 5 Youth Development Principles

As an employer, by providing the youth with a well designed internship can play a critical role in helping them develop the necessary skills required for the workplace as well as assist in creating relationships he/she may not experience at school or home. According to Youth development research there are a number of "building blocks" or conditions that contribute to helping the youth become self-sufficient, caring, and contributing adults. These conditions are known as the "supports and opportunities" and they are as follows:

  1. Emotional and Physical Safety

    This focuses on meeting youths' basic needs as well as building trust and respect.

  2. Caring Relationships

    This element focuses on forming caring relationships with at least one adult in each youth's life, the existence of positive relationships with peers.

  3. Youth Participation

    Includes opportunities for youth to have a voice, multiple choices, leadership, and a role.

  4. Community Involvement

    This focuses on the opportunities for the youth to connect and impact their community in positive ways.

  5. Engaging Skill Building

    Includes looking at activities to strengthen interests and build new capacities.

Introducing young people to the workplace

It is important that when introducing young people into the workplace that a brief orientation is done in order to set the conditions for a safe and positive experience for the intern. Furthermore, it is vital to ensure that a warm tone is set while clearly defining roles, setting up the expectations and establishing necessary boundaries.

6 Tips employers should follow:

  1. Ensure that the intern has proper orientation in the workplace and is introduced to all the coworkers.
  2. Ensure that the employees address the intern by name.
  3. Provide the intern with reliable equipment and ensure that you demonstrate how to use it safely.
  4. Know and uphold child safety laws as well as sexual/racial harassment policies to ensure that the intern feels safe in the workplace.
  5. Identify a suitable office space for the intern to work that is his or her own.
  6. Explain to the intern your expectations with regards to breaks, lunch and appropriate behavior.

Relationship building and its importance

As an employer working with an intern gives you the opportunity to develop and model appropriate boundaries and respectful communication, create opportunities for the intern to learn how to behave in a professional manner as well as demonstrate a sense of enjoyment for work. In order to ensure that internships are successful, employers must leverage their unique expertise with workplace guidance that supports the youths development. To ensure that productivity is increased from the start, the employer will be required to build a positive working relationship with the intern from the moment they walk through the door. It is important that the intern has at least one supervisor/ workplace mentor, who meets with him or her on a regular basis to address questions and concerns.

Open communication with the intern

As an employer it is important to take time to listen to the intern, ask questions about his or her interests, and set expectations for the internship together. The intern will be more productive if they get a sense of the "bigger picture" and have input about their role in the workplace.

A few tips

Skills building for the intern

The mentor/employee that is responsible for looking after the intern needs to discuss the skills that are relevant to their specific department as well put tasks in place that will help the intern develop the necessary 21st century skills required in the workplace. These skills include: Problem solving, Self-direction, Oral and written communication, Teamwork and diversity, Research and technology, Creativity, Leadership, Work ethics and Social responsibility.

Tips to skills building

Working with the youth

As an employer, it's important to take time out to learn about the teen with whom you will be working. Youth want to be appreciated and respected as individuals and therefore it helps to know a little about their background and culture. According to An Employer's Guide to Building a Quality Internship, the "judgment center" of an adolescent brain is still forming, therefore setting good workplace boundaries is essential to preventing misunderstandings.

The Northwest National Leadership Training: Successful Strategies for Employers by the Mid-Willamette Education Consortium developed following chart offers some workplace strategies to help employers work successfully with youth:

Adolescent Characteristic Workplace Strategy
Interested in sense of independence Make the intern accountable for his or her work.
Up-front about what he or she wants Involve the intern in project development. Ask the intern about his or her interests.
Appreciates fairness and truth Be frank, honest, and nonjudgmental.
Wants to do well but does not know how Be friendly and clear.
Discuss project activities, and/or company expectations (e.g., objectives, agendas, dress code)
Prefers involvement in multiple activities Involve the intern in a variety of tasks.
Underdeveloped time management skills Assign due dates; review timelines.
Model and explain time management skills.
Have the intern keep a project journal or time sheets.
Lacks self-direction Check in with the intern to ensure he or she is clear on what is expected. Help set goals; the case manager may be able to help.
Knows everything: influenced by peers Elicit and respect the intern's ideas.
Provide alternative suggestions and share reasoning.
Learns in short intervals Give new information in small steps.
Provide opportunities for the intern to practice and reinforce what he or she is learning.
Has already had jobs Explore skills the intern already has and look for ways to enhance them

What to do when difficult situations arise with the intern?

As an employer, some of the interns might not possess a great deal of life experience therefore some of them may require extra coaching about appropriate workplace behaviors. For example, what if an intern curses, deals poorly with conflict, is disrespectful to fellow employees or maybe he/she dresses inappropriately, or smokes on the premises? If an intern displays any of these behaviors, of course you must intervene.

First ask yourself, "has the intern been given clear expectations and workplace rules about this behavior?" If so, take the intern aside and respectfully explain your concerns, review company policies and their importance. It is important that the intern understands that certain behaviours that are appropriate with friends or family may not be at the workplace.

In order to handle these difficult situations, it is important to assess whether the inappropriate behavior is "situational" and to determine if the intern was aware of his or her expectations in the workplace. Thereafter you need to ask the intern what their interpretation of the situation is and what exactly prompted the behavior. It is important to have a proper discussion with the intern about the situation and together agree upon alternatives. Lastly, as the employer you need to let the intern know that you will be monitoring their behavior and discuss what actions will take place if further interventions are necessary.

These interventions are a great way to not only explain to the intern what is inappropriate about the behavior, but to also help him/ her develop new, productive life skills.

Important models for workplace mentoring

Mentoring can either be formal or informal and has been identified as an important influence in professional development in both the public and private sector. Mentoring programs are implemented by many companies and organisations as it is known to have many benefits such as to increase morale, increase organizational productivity as well as increase career development. However, successful mentoring programs do not just happen and require a lot of time. Below are two main models that can be implemented to achieve successful mentoring.

There are four types of mentors

  1. Career Guide:

    This mentor promotes development through career guidance, counseling and visibility.

  2. Information Source:

    This mentor provides information about formal and informal expectations.

  3. Friend:

    This mentor interacts with the protégé socially and provides information about people.

  4. Intellectual Guide:

    This mentor provides an equal relationship, collaborates on research projects and provides constructive feedback and criticism.

Designing an Internship Program - 3 simple steps!

Step 1: Set goals

Things to think about:

  • Do you require the intern for a specific project?

    If so, what are the tasks and objectives of the project? What are the deadlines?

  • Will there be general support around the workplace?

    Does your company need an intern to perform administrative and support functions?

  • Do you want to give the intern a taste of everything your company does?

    How will cross-training be structured into the intern’s schedule? Such as time devoted to each department/area as well as employees to mentor the intern?

  • Will you pay the intern?

    If so, how much?

  • What sort of academic background and experience should the intern possess?

    Decide on standards for quality beforehand in order to select the best candidates.

  • Who will have the primary responsibility for the intern?

    Will that person be a mentor or merely a supervisor? Ideally, the mentor should be someone from the department where the intern is working.

  • What will the intern be doing?

    Interns, like others in the process of learning, require structure so they don’t become lost, confused or bored therefore it is important that you are as specific as possible

  • Do you want to plan a program beyond the work you give your interns?

    Such as special training programs, performance reviews, lunches with executives or social events?

Step 2: Write a plan

This step is very important since you need to carefully plan and write out the internships program and goals. Draft a job description that clearly explains the job’s duties. For example, do you require someone for a specific project, for general support around the workplace or to simply give the intern a taste of everything the company does?

Things to think about:

Step 3: Supervising the intern(s)

[Source: Richmond, n.d]

Aspects to keep in mind after internship period

Once the internship has been completed it might be in your best interest to determine whether the intern is a great match for your company or not. If the intern is a great match, you may want to consider hiring him or her as an employee. If the intern is still at school you could consider inviting him or her to do work intermittently on particular projects. If the intern, however, is not the best fit for your company, simply expressing the words "keep in touch" will send the important message that you care.

As an employer it is critical to make the effort to provide workplace mentoring for the youth in order to prepare them with the necessary skills required in the workplace as well as to be self-sufficient. In today's day and age, it is important that companies are willing to demonstrate professionalism, communication, teamwork, innovation, and critical thinking skills.


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