There are some things that can't be taught at university. To bridge the gap between academia and the working world, most educational institutions offer undergraduates a chance to do industrial training or internship in companies or industry.
Students who opt for industrial training are put into the workplace for a period of time with the aim of exposing them to a work environment and for them to put the theory they have learnt into practice.
In the process, interns gain interpersonal and communication skills. At a time when many graduates are said to be unemployable, industrial training provides a valuable avenue for universities to produce students that meet the industry's needs.
“Industrial training would make a student a more effective employee after graduation; those who excel can even be offered a permanent job by the company they trained at,'' says Assoc Prof Dr Marohaini Yusoff.
Unfortunately, most institutions do not make industrial training compulsory. At Universiti Malaya (UM), while some faculties make industrial training compulsory for their students, others give their students the option to do project papers. However, Dr Marohaini has noticed that each year, the number of students opting to do industrial training exceeds the number who don’t.
Dr Marohaini, who is head of the Student Industrial Training Unit at UM says that the university realises that industrial training has many advantages and would like to make it compulsory for all students. “However, before we can do that we have to ensure that there are enough places for them.''
An industrial placement programme allows students to develop specific “work related” skills as they take on small-scale projects.
Help Institute academic director Dr Khong Kim Hoong says that while internships are not compulsory, students are encouraged to take them up as it would enhance their studies while working on real projects.
“Students get real life experience in an internship. Instead of studying marketing and the problems in theory, there is nothing like doing real marketing and facing up to the problems and the challenges.
“It also gives them a chance to assess future employers and earn some money during the vacation,” he says.
K.S. Goh, chief executive, academic affairs, at Metropolitan College, says that internship is not mandatory for its twinning programme students although they may opt to do it.
“Students who don't are required to take a subject called Professional Skills Development,” he says.
Goh adds that Metropolitan's twinning partner, Curtin University of Technology in Australia, also embeds professional and vocational skills into every course.
These include skills like information search and processing, presentations, group and teamwork, public speaking, job interviews, memo and report writing, communication skills, researching skills and problem analysis.
KDU College, Penang, campus principal Dr Tan Toh Wah says that industrial attachment is a feature of diploma and degree programmes at KDU, but only those doing the former receive credit for it.
“Internship was introduced in the diploma programme to familiarise students with their work scope as early as possible so that they would get a head start in their careers. This is very important because employers value work experience. Furthermore, fresh graduates with work experience will have a competitive edge over others.”
In the diploma in computer studies programme, a student can select either to go for industrial training or do a computing project.
“The internship is mutually beneficial to the organisations and the trainees. The organisations get knowledgeable trainees to help them and the trainees, exposure. This helps to build up a good working relationship between the college and industry. We have students who joined organisations immediately after their studies.”
Monitoring and assessment
Dr Marohaini says that for the industrial training to be effective, a system to monitor students must be put in place. In UM, for example, every placement student is allocated an academic supervisor and an industrial supervisor from within the company.
“The company and university will come up with a suitable training programme for the student. Ideally the academic supervisor should visit the student during the placement period.”
Usually the student is required to provide his academic supervisor with a report or fill up a logbook. The employer must ensure that the student has performed satisfactorily during the placement period.
In some institutions, a student who has not satisfactorily completed an industrial placement may have to repeat it before being allowed to graduate.
Most institutions give credit for industrial placements, which can vary from two to eight credits depending on the length of time and the discipline.
Binary College follows the National Accreditation Board's (LAN) recommendation, that is, two credits for a one-month internship, based on six hours of work per day.
“Students are assessed on quality of output, commitment to work, creativity, understanding of host organisation's activities, interpersonal skills and attendance,'' says Binary president and CEO, Joseph Adaikalam.
At Help, students do not get credit unless they have registered for a project. “This is the norm in an IT programme,'' says Dr Khong.
Goh says that Metropolitan students' performance during internship is assessed by the employer and not the college. Students have to source for a workplace themselves.
“From time to time, some companies call us up for internship students. We help those who are keen to contact these companies.”
Dr Tan says that KDU students are allowed to find their own placement but the organisation they have chosen has to be agreed to by KDU. “There can be a mismatch between the organisation's training schedule and the semester's duration. Also during certain semesters there may not be many openings in industry.”
Dr Marohaini emphasises that companies should not set too high a standard before taking in students. “Some have very high expectations. But they need to realise that students are trainees, they are there to learn.”
To streamline the process and avoid overlapping, UM established a unit in 1997 to assist the various faculties in the placement of undergraduates.
However, the unit's responsibilities have since grown; it now provides services and programmes that equip students with skills and knowledge for industrial training and prepare them for the job market at the same time.
UM has put in place a preparatory programme for industrial training, open to undergraduates wanting to take up a place in industry.
Held every Saturday, students on the programme attend workshops and seminars on topics like social etiquette, writing resumes, attending interviews, technical report writing and English communication skills.
Dr Marohaini says the programme is aimed at exposing students to the working world, its expectations and requirements. “We have invited CEOs from major companies to give talks to students.”
KDU too has a similar programme for its Mass Communication students. The college gives them tips on social skills, team work, and how to deal with stress and pressures at work.
The length of internships vary, as does the pay or remuneration offered, depending on the company. Some students are paid a meal allowance, some receive pocket money and some get a small salary.
Dr Marohaini says that some high-achieving students can even earn up to RM2,000 during internship, especially those working in IT companies.
Dr Khong shares that some Help students have even delayed their studies because of their internship experience.
“There have been instances where students have extended their internship and delayed their return to school because the pay is good or the project they are working on is exciting.”
At Binary, students go on formal internships during the last semester. “They are usually sent to strategic partner associates, either local or multinationals firms. They are paid an allowance by most firms, about RM300-400 per month.”
Adaikalam says that although internships are compulsory for all courses at Binary, he believes the conventional approach of providing a one or two semester internship is not enough to achieve its intended purpose.
“In addition to this formal internship, we have built in a series of mini projects within each semester, thus allowing students to put theory into practice. This way we can mould graduates who appreciate the differences that exist between academia and industry and most importantly have ample time (six to eight semesters) to correct their weaknesses.”