Introduction to the internship programme

What is an Internship? 

As contemplated by Cabinet in December 2002, internship is a public service graduate work experience programme targeting unemployed graduates. 

Internship gives students workplace experience or an opportunity to practice the work skills that they have studied and will practice in future. Internships of different kinds are common in fields including medicine, social work, and engineering. 

Internship in the public service is a planned, structured, and managed programme that provides work experience for a specific period varying from three to twelve months. A designated mentor may support an intern in the public service. In South Africa internship is a practical programme to assist with the continuous development of people for future appointment in the labour market. It is directed at young people who are completing their studies or who have completed their studies and are unemployed. 

An internship can also benefit the employer who has an opportunity to get to know the intern and to establish whether the intern is employable in the business. 

Through carefully selected practical work assignments, internships allow the intern to come to a better understanding of the public service, its values and work ethic, and the opportunities it offers. 

This guideline document is intended to support the development of public service graduate internships. This is a programme designed and coordinated by all public sector departments for unemployed graduates. 

The document does not specifically support student internships. This is because student interns are registered as students at higher education institutions and cannot be defined as ‘unemployed’ work seekers. Student internships are based on agreements between departments, higher education institutions and the student interns in question. These agreements will differ depending on the work experience specified by the higher education institution for a student to fulfil the requirements of their programme.

Background to internships in the public service 

South Africa is faced with a major problem of unemployment especially among women and the youth. While jobs are not being created as quickly as desired, the problem of unemployment is exacerbated by lack of skills and formal work experience. In addition, higher education institutions do not appear to prepare students adequately for the world of work. Thus we need to alleviate high levels of unemployment among young graduates and provide them with opportunities to gain practical work experience. 

These challenges are being addressed through a range of government programmes. One of them is the government’s Public Service Graduate Work Experience Programme. 

In 2002 Cabinet approved the Human Resource Development (HRD) Strategy for the Public Service, which included an Internship Framework and a Scarce Skills Strategy. The framework seeks to establish an effective and efficient internship programme aimed at bridging the gap between academic study and competent performance in the workplace by offering structured internship opportunities to students and unemployed youths that will enable them to gain practical work experience over a maximum of 12 months. 

The National Human Resource Development Strategy and the National Skills Development Strategy inform the HRD Strategy for the Public Service. These strategies introduce learnerships as a mechanism to address the skills shortage and unemployment. 

Cabinet decided that over a five-year period, the number of young people involved in internship and learnership programmes should reach 5% of the establishment of government departments. 

Following this decision, and in preparation for this campaign, a report on the effectiveness of learnerships and internships across government departments was submitted to Cabinet in March 2003. Cabinet approved a number of recommendations aimed at making internships and learnerships more effective in building skills and bridging the gap between work and study. 

As the single largest employer in the country the public service stands to gain directly by improving the quality of the skills pool from which it can draw future employees. Positive internship experiences will also help to create a cadre of dedicated, service-orientated potential public sector employees. 



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Date added : 2017-06-02 12:17:12
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