Internship culture in Germany; what lessons could we learn?

There are more than 1 million students graduating in India every year, but nearly ~75% are labelled unemployable by industry. In addition, many students, in absence of enough practical exposure, land jobs in fields other than their specialization or remain unemployed. What is the reason behind this? Where are we lacking? What could we do to bridge this gap between what academia produces and what industry wants?

The Scenario in Germany: -

Education System: – In Germany the students get an exposure to the formal job-skills training at a very young stage. After the completion of their secondary school, the students have options to pursue either a full-time job-skills training school or a formal dual-track job-skills training program: a three-year paid internship paired with classroom instruction. The graduates from this training program have the option of continuing formal education at college-oriented schools or can transfer to a three year education in a selected major in the dual track mode. Needless to say, the education system in Germany is not only flexible but also gives opportunity to students to become well equipped with the industry before taking up a career.

More than 75 per cent of the students, not immediately bound for college take up internships in various sectors while completing their dual degree. Interns are paid about one quarter of the rate that is fixed for a skilled employee. There are Federal Labor Laws governing the on-site training with a qualified employer. For three to four days a week and under the guidance of in-house mentors, interns learn and practice all phases of the operation. Other days they study the major academic courses. This cohesive approach is why Germany has skilled employees as early as the age of 19. Internships are open for even secondary school dropouts. There are 3-4 months breaks during the academic year for summer/winter holidays. Engineering and Medical students use this time for pursuing their mandatory internships

Employers: – The employers (both large and small) play a vital and tangible role in education system. They know that they too have a stake and responsibility in creating a skilled workforce. They work as partners with the schools and colleges to offer paid training to students. The process of obtaining an internship is as rigorous and competitive as getting a regular job. Quality training can be achieved from collaboration between the training schools and employers.

The Scenario in India: -

Education System: -

  1. It is evident that our education system focuses more on theory rather than practical approach. Emphasis is always given to the marks obtained in academics rather than actual knowledge that a student might have. Even during interviews, most of the questions relate to the theoretical concepts rather than its application.
  2. Not all colleges encourage their students to take up internships and have it as an element of the study program. The colleges that do have internships as part of curriculum,  often recommend or required only 1 internship in three/four years of degree program.
  3. Very few colleges’ academic schedule allows for long term (6 months or more internships). Most often internships are of 2-3 months duration which make it difficult for companies to justify the investment in training a student for such a short duration
  4. This inflexibility in our education system is also one of the reasons why students may have no clue about the right career option for them even after graduating.

Employers: – Organizations’ complaining about the incompetence among newly hired recruits is very common. Industrialists often get at the fact that the students are lacking in professional training and are not job-ready.

What can be done?

  1. The colleges need to understand the importance of internships (Read here) and why its inclusion is necessary in the degree course of students.
  2. The inclusion of an internship at the end of each year linked with the courses taught during that year will enable students to get a hold of whatever they have learnt through practical application.
  3. Also, a suitable semester break could be provided by colleges so that a student can explore his prospects in the industry by means of long term internship.
  4. If the colleges are showing an interest by incorporating internships as a part of college curriculum, then the companies too should we willing to lead and take initiatives in institutionalizing the process of internships and training programs.

Though this may seem like a long term goal, but we need to make a start. The industry can no longer stand and complain about the lack of job-ready students. If the investment from one company reaps profit, others may follow. The long term benefits from this process will be realized and the country may see an Internship act being instituted (or scope of existing Apprenticeship act being broadened) with the help and partnership from public-private sectors.

Considering all the reasons stated above, if our nation needs well-rounded individuals with appropriate knowledge and experience when joining the workforce then; internships should be a natural and integral part of a college student’s schedule.

Do you think internships are essential and add value? What do you think can be done to bring a culture of meaningful internships. Leave your thoughts/suggestions in form of comments below – we would love to strike a conversation! :)

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