Student and business gain from internship

Catherine Wijnberg

Both employer and intern stand to benefit from an intern programme. Here Catherine Wijnberg, director of Fetola and Abram Molemane, an intern, share their experiences.

The Business owner

Here is Fetola, itself a small business operating on tight margin. We know too well the challenges faced by the small business owner. Time, resource allocation and of course cash flow are constant bugbears, leaving little resources to experiment with new ideas, systems and practices.

Fetola is a company that was proudly built on the back of the ‘internship experience’. The story began early in 2008 when we were approached by an internship placement agency (Connect 123) with a request to host two interns from the USA.

At the time, we were a staff of three with half working from home. I had not thought of using interns as a resource in the business, but it sounded like a fun way to expand our world view, while getting free ‘hands on deck’.

The experience was a positive one for all, and the extra hands (and minds) helped to fill in for a key staff member on maternity leave and allowed us to explore some new areas of development in the business. The successes we’ve had with our interns over the years led us to consider how a structured programme targeting South African graduates could yield similar results. The result has been the Graduate Asset Programme.

Abram has been a fine asset to our team and it’s been a pleasure to watch his development from intern to full-time member of our team.

The Intern

Like most students, I believed that a qualification would be enough for me to get a job – little did I know. The reality is that work experience is greatly beneficial for any first time worker, particularly if you’ve just graduated. This was a lesson I soon learnt while doing my internship with Fetola.

Abram Molelemame to get a job –little did I know. The reality is that work experience is greatly beneficial for any first time worker, particularly if you’ve just graduated. This was a lesson I soon learnt while doing my internship with Fetola.

The best part of my internship? My employers noticed the value I was adding to the company and after my six months’ internship was up, they offered me a permanent position.

The practical experience I’d gained helped me adapt seamlessly to the working environment and it made it easier for me cope when I was employed permanently.

Get interns with GAP

GAP (the Graduate Assistance Programme) is an intern placement programme that matches new graduates with small and medium sized businesses in South Africa.

The programme aims to facilitate the placement of
24 000 graduates over the next three years, and to encourage the successful conversion of 30% of these into longer-term job placements in approximately 8 500 small and medium businesses.

How does it work?

GAP is powered by a simple and user-friendly web platform whose mechanics are loosely based on those of online dating sites, where matches between parties are made based on selected preferences and profiling.

The intention is to help the business owner find the most suitable internship candidate in the shortest possible time.

The GAP website includes a free ‘resource library’ with a host of downloadable documents that cover such matters as job descriptions and employment contracts, sickness and leave forms and disciplinary codes and procedures.

Keen to sign up as a host business or graduate intern?
• For further information and to sign up either as a host business or a graduate intern, visit the GAP website at


Here is some advice when employing interns:
• Pay your intern a stipend.
• Prepare your intern for the work place. Through trial and error we quickly realised the benefit to everyone in helping interns with the first steps of working life.
• Carefully match your intern with your specific needs “Take special care with softer skills and personality fit. Experience has taught us that attitude is a greater determinant than degree.
• Provide support, supervision and stimulation This will enable you to get the most from your intern. These youngsters want to be challenged, to test the limits of their capabilities and to be seen to succeed. Allow this where possible.
• If trouble arises deal with it swiftly and with compassion. Chances are, you’re dealing with the generation gap, the culture gap and definitely the experience gap.

GAP’s website offers information at

, ,

We welcome comments and point out that the views of those who comment are not necessarily our views at Small Business Connect, its publishers, sponsors, or the dti. We invite debate, but insist on civility. We will not post personal attacks, name calling or foul language. If you wish to report inappropriate comments for our moderator to review, please use the Flag as inappropriate function provided.