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)

Difference between an Internship & an Apprenticeship

An internship can be defined as informal insight into how an industry or profession works as well as allows the intern to find out more about that specific industry without having to commit to a permanent job. Furthermore, an internship will improve the interns confidence levels, improve their interpersonal skills as well as give them better insight into the working world.

An apprenticeship on the other hand is formally structured on the job learning and classroom-based learning that teaches the apprentice the skills as well as the tools required for a particular career. Furthermore, the apprentice will be taught tangible skills that will equip them for a career in that particular industry. An apprenticeship is much longer than an internship in that it may last from one to six years whereas an internship is generally shorter than a year. With regards to pay in an apprenticeship, the pay tends to be lower since the apprentice will be getting paid whilst learning. Lastly both internships and apprenticeships provide a route to a career.

[Source: 1000 Years of Career Advice, 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?

This is a new innovative trend in internships which refers to a format where interns work only eight hours a week—either on or offsite. This new approach allows students to get valuable work experience by committing to only working 8 hours a week.

The advantages of such an internship include:

  • Interns with much higher energy levels

    Students aren't overwhelmed with a full day of class as well as a fulltime job and therefore are more productive since they are giving all of their energy towards working 8 hours a week.

  • Much larger applicant pool

    Since the students are able to work off site it opens up an opportunity to accommodate students who wouldn't have been able to commute to work otherwise

  • Ability to test drive full time interns

    Internships offer the company an opportunity to scout for potential future employees.

  • Reduction in company resources

    Firstly, it is less expensive to pay an intern for 8 hours a week than for 4 and secondly if interns decide to work off site there is no need to allocate a workspace for them with a computer and other work equipment.

  • Proof for new programs

    Implementing such an internship requires very little resources and therefore can be used as a test run to determine whether such an internship on a larger scale would be a viable option, especially for startups and SME's.

[Source: Chegg Internships]

Why should you intern in South Africa?

South Africa welcomes hardworking, focused young professionals that are able to fill a variety of positions and partake in numerous projects from coast to coast. If you are eager and willing to learn and grow your professional skills while also opening your eyes to new experiences and new ways of living then interning in South Africa is just for you.

Below are a few reasons why you should intern in South Africa:

  1. There are many interesting and breathtaking places to choose from

    Every province has something different to offer. Ranging from the urban environment to the deep rural communities. Cape town offers access to nature, a progressive, hip vibe and dozens of high-quality internships. Johannesburg offers national parks and historic neighbourhoods and Durban and Pretoria offer amazing community development projects.

  2. The range of internship programs are vast

    Interning in South Africa gives you the opportunity to intern in just about anything. From working closely with big cats to helping doctors save lives. There are dozens of established and reputable programs to choose from!

  3. It won't cost an arm and a leg

    Cost can be a big factor but luckily South Africa is a relatively affordable place to travel and intern. To intern in South Africa is to sign up for a whirlwind of opportunity.

[Source: GoAbroad]

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]

What are the expected work hours for interns?

According to the FLSA, a maximum number of hours that an intern can work per week is not established. However, if it is a paid internship and the intern works over 40 hours per week, then he/she must be paid time and a half for those hours worked in excess of 40 unless he/she qualifies for an overtime exemption.

[Source: WayUp]

Internships vary enormously so what should you expect?

[Source: Worksmart, n.d]

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]

Categories of Interns

According to the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) there are two categories of interns, firstly a graduate intern and secondly a student intern. A graduate intern can be defined as a person who has completed a qualification but is unemployed and requires workplace exposure to enhance chances of future employment. A student intern on the other hand is a person who is enrolled at a tertiary education institution and is required to obtain practical experience as part of their study program.

[Source: The DPSA]

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]

Proactive and reactive methods to seeking internship opportunities

Firstly according to PNW when searching for internships, interns should plan on devoting 80% of their time and energy to proactive methods and only 20% to reactive methods.

Proactive methods:

Reactive methods:

[Source: PNW, n.d]

Do’s and don’ts during your internship period



[Source: The Aleit Academy, n.d]

Key facts why an internship is beneficial to students close to graduating

[Source: PNW, n.d]

Long-term benefits of doing an internship

Internships aren't just resume (CV) boosters for students approaching graduation. Once successfully completing an internship, employers will generally offer the intern(s) a full-time job. Employers often use internships as a trial period in order to determine and evaluate if the intern is capable of joining the real world and therefore already have plans in place to recruit on a permanent basis. It is therefore important as the intern to make a good impression, ensure you're always on time, be enthusiastic as well prove your flexibility, adaptability and commitment to the employer.

According to a survey done by Graduate Advantages (2011) the results proved that most internships do indeed create permanent jobs for graduates.

  • 81% of interns are now employed
  • 74% of those interns are either in permanent employment or are on a long term contract.
  • Of these, 68% believe their internship helped them to gain their current position
  • An impressive 33% are still working with their internship organisation.

[Source: All About Careers, 2011]

Furthermore, according to a study done by The National Associations of Colleges and Employers (NACE) graduates attending Ivy League institutions has become less important since more importance has been placed on whether students have involved in experiential learning opportunities that could adequately prepare them for their professional future. Furthermore, students who completed at least one internship in college see more success in securing full-time employment as well as report higher levels of satisfaction with their overall career outcomes.

[Source: The College of St Scholastic, 2018]


Internships also benefit older students

The traditional perception of an intern is someone who is young, inexperienced and working their first-time job. However, this is untrue since internships can also benefit older students who are returning to school to receive additional training to enhance their skills. Older (more mature) interns can use internships to succeed in their transition to another field (change careers) as well use them to avoid long-term unemployment. Regardless of age, young and old interns share similar benefits.

Fields directly impacted by economic fluctuations tend to create a new supply of older interns seeking to change careers or improve their marketable skills. For example fields such as: healthcare, education and the military.

Furthermore, older interns sometimes offer their services pro bono, which may lead to a new job based on work performance. Older interns tend to demonstrate a stronger work commitment and ethics because they have experience in the workplace, have family obligations, or have matured.

[Source: Pologeorgis, 2019]

Academic Institutions also benefits from internships

Many academic institutions, including colleges and universities can also benefit from internships since their students often bring their real-world experience back to the classroom which creates interaction among students and their teachers, keeping the courses relevant and the curriculum up-to-date with the current trends. Furthermore, internships that are successfully arranged to create a path for graduates to employment further validates the university's curriculum in the working environment.

It is clear that internships provide a more valuable learning experience as opposed to lectures and case studies. Furthermore it connects the faculty to the current trends within various professional fields which results in the following:

  • Increases the academic instructions credibility (college or university)
  • Increases the program credibility
  • Creates stronger bonds with the alumni
  • Allows for more competitive and employable graduates
  • Generates student excellence

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.


The biggest job-related Twitter account in the world Best Business Blog Winner / SA Blog Awards 2013