Those who specialise in graduate employment and development know, at least anecdotally, that participating in work experience opportunities while studying makes an immediate and lasting impact on students. It connects the theories and methods they have learned to real-world applications and shows them how to use their competencies and attributes in a workplace setting. Whether students are backing themselves to become future entrepreneurs or working towards joining an organisation where they can use their talents to support innovation and service delivery, or develop expertise, the opportunity to gain work experience is extremely valuable.
It’s unfortunate, then, that work experience opportunities for university students have always been in short supply. Mostly, conflicting calendars and limited resources are the challenge. For example, finding three to four weeks to host a group of students during the year, when their holidays are not all the same and operational matters in the business have to be considered, can be a scheduling nightmare for employers. December and January might sound like the perfect opportunity as students take their summer break, but that is when organisations have some down time, too.
The other major challenge is logistics – providing desk space, ensuring students have access to meaningful supervision, the availability of tools like laptops and arrangements for students to get from where they live to where they work, just to name a few.
For the QuantifyYourFuture team, finding ways to provide work experience opportunities in emerging career fields has been a core part of our platform’s mission. So, when digital transformation suddenly became business-critical rather than nice-to-have in 2020, we asked ourselves:
- Do work experiences still have to be hosted at the head office? – The answer was no.
- If we are all working online, can we use the lack of geographical constraints to share our experience and scale the opportunities we create to reach many more students outside the major CBDs? – We thought we could.
- And then, if we create a meaningful virtual experience, how do we reach students who are not based in the busy metropoles? – We decided to make a plan.
So, with scale and diversity in mind, and with the support of four amazing partners– Absa, FirstRand, First National Bank and Nedbank – we embarked on a project to build a meaningful virtual work experience programme that we could scale up to include as many students from as many different universities as possible. The QYF Virtual Internship Programme was piloted in July 2021, and it was so successful that we have just opened applications for a second programme from 19 January – 28 February 2022.
The QYF Virtual Internship Programme showcases new and emerging careers in South Africa. Working with our partners? and leading solution providers in South Africa, we developed a model of learning and doing that builds four of the most-needed competencies for the future – Critical Thinking, Creativity, Communication and Collaboration. The model included applied business projects as examples of solving critical problems, using these four competencies and the quantitative skills our participants are learning through their degrees.
Our first cohort of QYF interns included 250 talented young individuals from 12 South African Universities. We focused on penultimate-year students so that we can pursue a journey of self and career development with them. The July internship was the start of a three-year programme to prepare graduates for their entry to the world of work, and emerging careers.
Using leading-edge, bespoke digital tools – such as the international award-winning candidate experience platform,– we are building communities of practice for the future. We are also supported by talent management experts who have a passion for building talent, and by more than 20 young professionals from our partner businesses who are acting as mentors and coaches to our interns.
Many lessons have been learnt from our pilot programme. For organisations and talent managers who wish to run a scaled approach to building talent in a virtual world, here are some challenges that we WILL overcome:
- Just buying data for someone, doesn’t mean they have good coverage!
- Be conscious of what is happening in the social and political space – it certainly wasn’t business as usual in mid-July in South Africa! Safety was a key concern as we launched.
- Understand the nuances of a diverse audience. We all have very different lives and past experiences, and these do affect how students engage with programmes of this nature.
- Work with solutionists who know their strengths and can contribute to daily reviews and enhancements of assignments.
- Be intentional about changing your approach and listen to the student voice in this process.
As we gear up and plan for our next group of Virtual Interns, we particularly want to demonstrate return on investment – for our students, firstly, and then for our sponsors. We look forward to changing the landscape of the future of work and leaving no one behind in learning!