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Capacity Building: Internship Programs

Building the capacity of project staff is a critical, but unfortunately often overlooked aspect of technical assistance delivery in developing countries.

Internship programs provide young talent an excellent opportunity to "break in", kick-start their careers and provide the project the opportunity to employ additional qualified labor when budgets are tied. In designing our internship programs, we use the following check list:

Risk/Impact Analysis: Although you want to give interns as much exposure as possible, you also want to avoid that  interns take up too much responsibility and/or responsibilities that go beyond their capabilities. You also want to ensure that they are given enough exposure to real tasks. To find a balance, project management should be aware of the potential risks and negative impact an internship program may have on the risk profile of the project.

A simple tool to determine the internship program's impact on the project's risk profile is a Risk/Impact Analysis, a 2-by-2 matrix.


Risk impact analysis for internships

The matrix indicates areas of project operation where the risk are the greatest that something goes wrong and where the impact is the greatest when it goes wrong. Traditionally, areas such as accounting, project branding, security and safety are high risk/high impact areas.

Professional project management would dedicate most of its time supervising staff and monitoring processes in these risky areas and actively delegate tasks to staff and interns in other areas. Unfortunately, project managers are often spending too much of their time on areas that are high risk/low impact or low risk/low impact. Especially managers who have trouble delegating tasks and who tend to micro manage staff, seems to focus on areas in the matrix where, when something goes wrong, the impact is nihil or minimal on the project.

An effective internship program exposes participants to considerable risk taking behavior, but only in areas where failure has no consequences. For example, interns should not be responsible for the payroll or bank runs for your project.

Set Goals for Interns: As with regular staff, concrete goal setting is important for any internship program to be successful. This gives the program structure, provides interns with a clear road map and assists mentors and interns to manage their expectations.

Team Interns with a Mentor: Coaching is an important aspect of on-the-job training, that requires mentors to seriously spend time with their interns. We always ensure that the expatriate advisors' job description explicitly refers to their responsibilities to be an active mentor.

Organize Regular Meetings with Interns: The more feedback interns receive, the better.

Build in a Career Path in Your Program: We always provide interns the opportunity to work for three months as "junior interns." After three months, interns are evaluated formally by the mentor who can decide whether an intern is given three more months as junior, or whether he/she is promoted to a "senior internship" position with more responsibilities and financial rewards. The competitive element of the element is a great motivator, especially if interns can compete for real jobs after the program.

Think Beyond the Box: We have seen innovative applications of internship programs in technical assistance projects. For example, some projects sponsor internship programs in ministries, NGOs and companies after tenders have been issued for organizations that are interested in receiving interns, but that do not have the financial means to provide for a computer and a stipend. Through such a program, valuable opportunities are created for both interns (male and particulalrly female and disabled interns) and organizations to build local capacity.

As with local staff memebrs, interns should be exposed on a daily basis to modern Western management practices, with as the ultimate goal of expatriate advisors to "work themselves out of their jobs."

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