By Martin Ike-Muonso
For several centuries, blacksmiths, various occupations and trades depended on the classical internship model for output creation, skill/technology transfer and succession planning. In the wake of it all, massive amounts of employment opportunities come into existence. Internship system was the backbone of entrepreneurial success at least before the advent of today’s highly sophisticated corporate traditions. In the past, business people depended partially on the human capacity that they could generate through the internship process to substitute for high-cost labour. Having gone through years of tutelage, these interns acquire substantial knowledge and are part of strategy formulation and other decisions for bigger and better business. Classic British novels are replete with cases of internship in trades such as law, cobbling and tailoring. Ancient Greek and Chinese education gained strengths on the back of the internship model where students spent years under a master and got documents certifying them to have become skilled in the trade and equally licencing them to practice as experts. The Igbo entrepreneurial model is also premised on sound internship model and has been a primary employment-creating source in Igbo land. Unfortunately, this model is slowly being either abandoned or wrongly adopted by corporates such that rather than obtaining the inherent benefits therein, the outcomes are usually less than desirable.
In the classical African internship model, the intern pays to receive skills, knowledge, trade secrets and general schooling. Through the payment made for registration, the master can augment the capital available to him for business operations and expansion. Therefore, the more the intern, the more the extra money the master earns in exchange for his shared expertise. Generally, the master provides the teaching and appropriates the monetary and labour contributions of the interns at least at the entry level. However, at the end of the internship, part of the monetary value of the interns’ contributions are made available to them by the master as start-up capital. Again this is one the beauties of the model by facilitating the provision of seed capital for interns entrepreneurial startup. Most of the time, the amount of seed capital made available by a master will depend among other factors on the level of prosperity of the business and importantly on the relative contributions of the interns while they served. In essence, therefore, at the end-of-internship, the provided seed capital is an indirect barometer showing how well an intern conducted him/herself and the quantum of hard work put in for the growth of the business. Lazy ones and those with a record of misdemeanour most of the time, usually end up with nothing. Lastly, the interns with good seed capital for take-off settle down and engage other interns. The cycle is auto-dynamically reinforced and continues.
The internship model is undoubtedly a great source of highly trained technicians and artisans. Transferrable expertise, however, depends partially on the dexterity of the master and his skill in imparting such knowledge. Today, we scarcely find Nigerian woodworkers with excellent precision that matches what Chinese and Filipino carpenters can do. It was different a few decades ago when the quality of Nigerian carpentry works was a thing of pride. We have lost much of these skills to nearby Togolese and Beninoise who have besieged the country and are taking away lots of our jobs. Nevertheless, we have the opportunity to take back these opportunities if we can adequately mainstream classic internship support for many of the trades and occupations that we have in the country.
We need a resurgence of Nigerian artisans who can fix smart televisions, fix telephones, do precise and high-quality wood and metal works, etc. As we know, it is in these trades, and artisanal activities lay much of the core solutions to unemployment problems of the country. If the internship model is facilitated and mainstreamed it will fast-pace our journey into technological innovations, entrepreneurship and employment generation. It is heart-rending to see us importing Togolese to fix our ‘Plaster of Paris’ ceilings while hundreds of our young men and women are looking for what to do. By mainstreaming the internship model, there will be higher motivation for our nationals to learn more about such highly on-demand skills and trades from other countries, and even corporates.
The mainstreaming process can typically be led by the Government but should be supported by non-governmental organizations that are desirous of employment generation. A good starting point will be to conduct a study that identifies the occupations and trades that are currently and potentially available in a given location and their relative growth rates, revenue-generating capacities and return levels. With this information, the government can, therefore, work out a system of incentives to enable operators in various occupations to accept and mentor interns. It is no brainer that if there are incentives that will make a vulcaniser to take one additional intern, that more than three thousand jobs can easily be created at any given point in time in most States in Nigeria.
Again, it is meaningful to expect that managers of relatively high growth and high-profit occupations should admit more interns in comparison to managers in other professions. Incentives can include the appropriation of sizeable funds to be extended as credits to these business managers through some banks at concessionary rates of interest. Since the funds are State monies that should be recovered in full, it makes sense that they are administered through 100% commercial channels (i.e. the banks – preferably the microfinance banks).
Another incentive will include collaborations with NGOs and development agency groups to provide regular capacity building to the operators of these businesses on the condition that they onboard at least one intern. If well structured, the impact should be huge. Since the probability of hiring more interns will be higher the more the profitability of the business, thoroughly curated and delivered capacity building ought to enhance that likelihood. An extension of the capacity-for-profit enhancement exercise can also involve the use of well-trained volunteers who are committed to supporting this cause.
Given the high level of unemployment in the country, it is scarcely debatable that we need this model to expand the output level and the number of job opportunities available. One way to go about this is to officially mainstream this model albeit in modified formats given the peculiarities of the occupation and trade as well as the spatial environment. Carefully thought-through incentivization programme as earlier described will provide a much-needed stimulus for economic activity expansion and larger windows for the onboarding of many interns. Key incentives should target support to firms to access more funds, more markets and more skills. The corporate segment should also ride on this platform to enhance both quality and availability of labour resources available for their economic production. Massive sensitization programmes on the apparent advantages of the classical internship model as well as the incentives to businesses to onboard should blow out the scheme.
Of course for this to work in an environment such as ours, there should also be some governance structure; otherwise, it will be abused and messed up. Many corporates and even small and micro businesses today use interns and dump them. In the classical internship model, the master must properly mentor and train the mentee to be as much as an expert as he and to financially settle the graduating intern with seed capital to enable him/her startup. Unfortunately, some masters do not even provide the interns with any form of skill transfer or training. The interns are provided spaces where they can sit and while the day away. Some interns themselves do not even understand that the purpose of the internship programme is to understudy and gain the skills possessed by the master. In any case, regardless of the obliviousness, without a clear governance framework that affords them the power to enforce the right to be trained, it might as well end up as another academic activity.
Professor Ike-Muonso is the Country Director of Baywood Foundation as well as the Chief Transformation Officer of GTI Capital Group