University student’s perception of industrial attachment

Industrial Psychology Consultants (IPC) recently carried out a survey to evaluate the experiences and perceptions of students with regard to industrial attachment. Most degree programs have a mandatory industrial attachment period where students are expected to get hands-on industry work experience for about twelve months.

There has been a lot of debate over industrial attachment. I have met employers who complain that students are “too raw” and lack some basic skills and competencies required in the workplace. Recently I started a conversation on Twitter that drew constructive contributions from academia, students and employers. These contributions eventually led to this survey. The aim of the survey was to identify the relevance, advantages and disadvantages of industrial attachment as part of the curricula of universities in Zimbabwe. This survey was based on students’ perspectives. We are still collecting responses from employers.

A total of four hundred and eighty-seven (487) participants responded to this survey. Participants were drawn from fourteen Zimbabwean universities.

Regardless of the challenges facing the industry, students are largely successfully securing places for industrial attachment. Eighty-nine per cent of the students managed to secure attachment related to their degree programs. However, eight per cent of the respondents stated that whilst they managed to secure a place for attachment, they were attached in areas that are not related to their degree program. Three per cent of participants said they did not find attachment at all.

Seventy-nine per cent of the respondents said that the assignments they were given were challenging to a greater extent. Approximately twenty-one per cent said the assignments they received were not challenging.

Fifty per cent of the participants felt their remuneration was fair; fourteen felt they were paid well; eighteen per cent felt that they were poorly paid and eighteen per cent were not paid at all. Universities do not require that employers should pay their student’s stipends. Normally any form of stipend or remuneration is at the benevolence of the employer largely because the attachment period is seen as one of training as part of the curricula.

Ninety-six per cent of the participants feel attachment is important and that it helped them develop their skills and competencies as professionals.

Eighty per cent of the participants feel attachment should remain at one year (twelve months) whilst only one per cent (1%) feel that attachment should be removed totally from the curriculum.

Whilst it is commendable that the industry is taking students on attachment, a huge concern is a time that it takes for students to get that attachment. I have noted that sometimes it takes over three months for some students to get places. Given that the industrial attachment period is only twelve months any delay is time and opportunity for learning that is lost. Universities need to take a more proactive approach to assist students to secure attachment. There is little real assistance is being provided by Universities. The current general trend of only providing letters is seriously insufficient.

I have also noted that some employers seem to take attachment students as “cheap labour” for clerical and administrative tasks. I am particularly worried that some students go through the industrial attachment and learn nothing meaningful apart from photocopying and filing documents. This is a shame. Companies need to take industrial attachment seriously. I see people complaining about the quality of graduates but doing nothing to help train and develop these future leaders. If your company has students on the attachment but you do not have a proper training plan and calendar for them, you need to correct this immediately.

Regardless of the differences in the degree programs, the industrial attachment should help the students to “develop awareness on the requirements of the world of work, enhance already acquired work-related skills which include social skills, have a hands-on experience with modern technology in whichever workplace a trainee serves, as well as, make a personal connection between theory and practice.” In the absence of a properly structured program, the true value of industrial attachment will not be realised.

Unlocking this value will require the collaboration of tertiary institutions, employers and students. Some of the concerns that students raised was a mismatch between the curricula, the learning experience and the actual requirements & demands of the industry. This is where collaboration will be important.

The government also has a role to play particularly by providing incentives to employers and financial assistance to tertiary institutions. These can range from tax credits and grants to assist universities to supervise students on attachment better, amongst others.

Memory Nguwi is an Occupational Psychologist, Data Scientist, Speaker, & Managing Consultant – Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd a management and human resources consulting firm. https://www.linkedin.com/in/memorynguwi/  Phone 481946-48/481950/2900276/2900966 or email: mnguwi@ipcconsultants.com or visit our website at www.ipcconsultants.com

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