The quest for professional development through practical experience remains undebatable today as a key requirement for the job market. Recurrent on the agenda is the problem of high youth unemployment often accustomed to many factors, of which lack of experience for engagement into the job market remains one of the key dimensions often not factored within the Discourse. The growing youth population in quest for jobs leaves us in an untold and confused scenario to express especially amongst young graduates from higher institutions and universities today. In line to this, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Foundation (LUKMEF) an international NGO registered in Cameroon in 1999 with main focus on; peace building, social justice, human rights, sustainable development for every individual and communities, runs a six months Professional internship Program now in its 09th Batch in the NW and SW regions to provide graduates the opportunity to gain employable skills in their domain of interest in the areas of humanitarian and Development programs. The Professional Internship Program focuses on Valorizing Education: Making Higher Education work for the Youths, Graduates, Communities and Cameroon, contribute efforts to reduce illegal migration and strategically train youths and graduates for promoting local development through a hybrid of professionalism and volunteerism (https://lukmefcameroon.org/professional-internship-2/). This article focuses to uncover the discussion session with young enrolled graduates during the 09th Batch Professional Internship Orientation sessions which was held on the 11th of July 2023 in Buea, SW Region of Cameroon within LUKMEF Head Office and on the 19th of July 2023 in Bamenda, NW Region within LUKMEF regional office in the NW. The sessions were attended by the CEO, National Coordinator, Head of Offices, and sector leads and staff of LUKMEF.
History of the LUKMEF Professional Internship Program
In a session with the newly engaged interns, Mr. Tanyi Christian, the Founder and CEO of LUKMEF Cameroon recounts this historical dimension. As he presented, the journey for setting up the professional internship programs can be traced some 10years ago. These have taken dimensions of receiving foreign young people for professional experiential training, engagements with the German and American Governments in providing exchanges and avenues to allow young foreigners gain skills. Considering the urge to empower and ensure local development drive the program under went numerous dimensions through challenges brought about by young Cameroonian who showed reluctance towards the opportunities and also pushing the organisation towards difficult situations through noncompliance to the set objective of abroad placements.
First, we started the internship program some 10years back; it was actually largely foreign young people who were coming to us to come to get knowledge; then later it was now an agreement between LUKMEF and foreign states government. We had agreement with the German government sending young graduates to LUKMEF through the Velves program, who upon reception, spend a year with LUKMEF- we give them skills and train them; we worked with the Americans where we take young people and they spend some time and get experience and come back as well. Both sounded like giving young people an opportunity but it didn’t work out. We were actually exporting foreign talents whose impact is not felt in Cameroon. For every Velves candidate that we have, we requested to equate it to one Cameroonian so as to have allowed them gain skills as well. So, we requested that the program be reviewed but this wasn’t agreed upon and this ended the program. Then we started sending young people abroad and some went and did not come back. Then we started receiving experienced volunteers and that worked. We had started the professional internship program in the past, but ended as well because many of the young Cameroonians did not show full professionalism for the job,”- Tanyi Christian, CEO LUKMEF, 11th July 2023.
Highly as identified, is the growing challenge faced by young graduates in gaining opportunities for the Job market and considering their low experience level they often are not considered as they do not possess skills for the job. Amidst these identified challenges and considering its overall mission to empower individuals and whole communities to take leadership in addressing their challenges towards having a fulfilled life, the determination to set up the Professional Internship Program as a dimension to fill in the skill gap was validated and engaged.
Then we later on set up the Professional Internship program. This is so because when you say you are volunteering, it means you are skilled and you are given your skills for a course you believe in for little or no pay. So, if you live school and want to gain a volunteering position, it becomes very difficult to do so. And similarly, the completion of the project during academic internship cannot translate you towards getting skills after graduation,”- Tanyi Christian, CEO LUKMEF, 11th July 2023.
Objective and relevance of Internships
The growing relevance of internships dates backs as from the Guild system in the 11th century; through the notion of vocational training in the 18th and 19th Century; to the notion of Apprenticeships in the 1800s and 1900s and to the concept of Internships in the 20th Century. The art of internship within the 20th Century saw its light within the medical field in the 1920s which later became and engaged model for governments, business and co-op programs began to be offered on college campuses in the 1960s. it focuses on skills transfer and acquisition through work related learning. This remains critical for the competitive job market (whose focus in to get qualified and skilled individuals) and coupled with the high rate of unemployment due to low skills and experiences towards seeking opportunities for self-career development through job employment amongst many especially youths today.
“Quite often, there is high need for getting qualified staff and this justified why we had to create this program. This is a program upon graduation from the university, you join the program so as to gain skills in a particular domain. When you are validated, you will basically become a staff. But one of the differences is that you are a staff with no skills. So, one of the key aspects is to acquire not just knowledge but skills. Here, it is all about applied knowledge. Since we can’t find the “ready-made” staff, we do get you in like a professional intern, you will be assigned to do things like the rest. At the end of the month, she will get a paid. The responsibility of the staff is that they do what is called Mirroring- which by the end you should be able to act like the person with the ability to be ready to sit in incase of any sudden unavailability- that is, if for some reason there is a gap, you should be ready to do what the other was doing- that means taking over. Take over is not just to sit on the same chair, but to do what is required. Therefore, internship and the world of work is a-must-do if you want to have a smooth and a systematic transition from being a student to being a worker. You can’t cut corners,”- Tanyi Christian, CEO LUKMEF, 11th July 2023.
Also, Internships get you closer to opportunities you desire, as 80% of job are not advertised considering the painful process of conducting recruitment, resources, and time involved. They add on to allow for a better understanding of the company culture and gain more exposure to networking opportunities for potential positive professional development and career building systems.
“The second thing that you need to do internships is that 80% of jobs are not advertised as recruitment is a painful and resource wasting time though there are policies that require that for every position you should advertise it. This doesn’t mean that you will just be told that you were an intern, take it. You will apply and do all the documentation for the process but this gives you an upper hand considering much knowledge you may have about the organisation. Internships give you a lot of opportunities as this gives you a way in to better understand the company culture. For until you walk in there can you know more about the organisation and the related opportunities. When you intern, first you have exposure,”- Tanyi Christian, CEO LUKMEF, 11th July 2023.
Unfortunately, many organisations are not willing to take on graduates without experience as this represents a huge burden and a high cost. On top of that you will add their stress levels. Therefore, having an opportunity to intern should thus increase the level of commitment amongst the individuals as well as increase the readiness for hands-on-learning and collaboration eliminating excuses and laxity within the program
“Here your mind should be clocked into the minds of a staff. We will not entertain excuses and laxity within the program. This is key as work is dependent on a product or service rendered efficiently. So, this is a golden opportunity to make great use of it,”- Tanyi Christian, CEO LUKMEF, 11th July 2023.
The Post education shock
Often times, there is a low consideration of the post education scenario of life amongst many young fellows. This is accustomed with no readiness in mind and as such many live in total oblivion not knowing what the reality of life is after Graduation. This remains a core observed reality today considering the increase unemployment, frustration and youth illegal migration in quest for sustainable livelihoods. The post education life is demanding and considering much of our context, it becomes a period often expected to be that of which one becomes self-sustaining and relating with family through timely support.
“Many of us will face the post education shock, because what you are learning while you are in school, you are like in a box- all what you think about on a daily basis is to study and validate a course; is to go to school, to eat, is to do things, but you are not really relating with the actual world and that is actually where you are going to end after the education. And life is so beautiful while you are a student and everything seems to be normal. Because your problems are attached only around- will I make it?, will I validate these courses, will I? and much more, but Once out of school, then you have this huge world to face and you’ll now start realizing a lot of things that are not visible if you were still a student- your parents suddenly start demanding and expecting from you, your sibling start looking up to you and you actually start give up that core cover that comes with “ I am a student,”- Tanyi Christian, CEO LUKMEF, 11th July 2023.
The Complexities of the Job Market: It all depends on you
Caught in the midst of the aforementioned numerous entanglements and demands, there is often high quest for meeting up life’s demands through the search for jobs and the desire to work to sustain life’s practical needs and to have peace within one’s self. However, the job market remains not a bed of roses but that of competition needing skilled and competent individuals for maximum results through product and/or services to be rendered. These demands entail thus self-commitment and self-discipline to work for the future you want to see now. This is so, as 80% of what you desire to have or be depends on you and only 20% can be determined or attributed to external factors. Thus, understanding one’s self and putting one’s self into building skills and increasing networks remain critical. These can be attainable through ensuring to set life’s goals and setting objectives and setting on steps towards meeting the objectives.
“And so immediately after that all what you are thinking is “I need to get a job, I want to get a job” Yes, its always good to always think about getting a job. But the truth is that “job market is so competitive and so tiny that you need to be able to know how to navigate yourself within the job market. A lot of 80% of you would always say I want to join the public services and some of you already have passports. Some of you are thinking that paradise is across the water. And so, you venture, you think about a lot of things, which is good. But in most cases, these thought processes are not realistic, they are like wishes and not dreams because dreams are supposed to be things you really think about, you believe in them and you really dedicate your time to achieving that, and that becomes a dream. But just thinking about going abroad and not knowing the steps to get there, that is just a wish. I wish to be a rich man, but you will never be rich man by wishing to be a rich man You need to set a goal, then you set objectives to meet those goals, and you set baby steps as objectives to meet those goals,”- Tanyi Christian, CEO LUKMEF, 11th July 2023.
With the growing quest to work in the both public sector and private sector, there is need to understand the milieus and the expectations within these systems for better preparedness. Within the work environment, only creativity, hard work, experience and all of that is required and this is the measuring rod for recruitment. This remains low in the minds of young graduates and remains a key issue to reckon with. This remains key as according to Mr. Tanyi Christian, “a job is something you are awarded, that you deliver measurable indicators within specified timeframe with quality assurance.” This remains the overall objectives as to why companies or organisational are set, to find quality employees to meet the company or organisational objectives
“All through your school life, you have been very relaxed you don’t know what work means, what assiduity means and you don’t know what a lot of the things we look up to means and even when you do apply, you still won’t have the job because you do not have experience and more. The determination therefore depends on you to get that fence off you. Believe in the 80:20 percent rule. Believe strongly all along that 80% of what you will be or who you are depends on you and only 20% depends on external factors. Quite often the problem we face is within and very little of that is external but we spend 80% of our time complaining about the 20% that is blocking us which is external and forget about the 80% that is actually internal that is what can transform our life. You get out of the university then and say you I want a job. I need a job. But what is a Job- getting up in the morning, going to the office, taking a break and going back home? No. A job is something you are awarded, that you deliver measurable indicators within specified timeframe with quality assurance. Now in the world of work we have also experience that (how many of you have ever missed an exam? What happened? Why did you miss an exam? The blame game is always shifting from the self and find a way to a portion it to something else to feel okay. Every employer including myself will always want to employ people that are ready made. we will want to employ you in the morning and want you to start deliver in the evening. That’s why company are set up. No body set up an organisation, to recruit people, spend time to train them and then to get them work. We don’t have that time,”- Tanyi Christian, CEO LUKMEF, 11th July 2023.
Amidst all of the aforementioned, it justifies why many organisations especially international NGOs and other CSOs do not provide avenues to accommodate graduates after school as they lack the needed requirements they are looking for. However, that is what we (LUKMEF) have been doing but at some point, we realised that we are basically penalizing or blaming the victim. Thus, this adds up as to why the Program was set up to provide response to empowering dedicated graduates into different areas for skills acquisition for the Job market.
Key Life currencies for career growth
Generally, there are two currencies that will determine one’s career life; Your performance currency and your network currency. These are core in building a career amidst self-discipline, respect, humility, and commitment.
Your performance currency is that which defines your value, it is that which makes you an asset. So, I can tell you looking at you straight into your eyes, that when it comes to the world of work as of now, you are a liability. Me telling you, walk away, I am losing nothing. So, when you gain knowledge and you are productive, you become serviceable and become a real asset- Not that you are valueless as a human being, I am talking about the world of work. It means, there is this process then of Converting yourself to an asset and it is doable. Never tell yourself that it is all gone; never feel hopeless; never think that you cannot really transform yourself, because its 80% internal and all depends on you; but you need to assert yourself of who you are. Who you are is in terms of the productivity, the value you put in yourself and not who you say you are. You can’t tell me that I am somebody, you need to show me that you are somebody. We are more of results than words. The question therefore is “have you set for yourself a goal? Have you broken that goal into achievable short-term objective? Are you bend to walk the baby steps, that is what you need in the world of work. The only parameter is Performance. In the same way, when you make yourself in terms of performance, ethics, hard work, results, quality, then you have achieved the first currency. The second currency is your network. Who can plead your case? Who knows that competence that you have? If I need to write a recommendation for you, it needs to be a true statement. Because if you don’t perform the problem is me because I misled that employer. That second currency is only useful if that first currency is achieved. Once you achieve that through the internship program then you can get our recommendations. We do share information and updates on authentic information. The first currency is the foundation, and if not solid, then it can’t work
Education and Career
What you study in school is good but that is not what will eventually put food on your table. The university is like an airport, and when you see a plane taking off from the airport or land, you won’t be able to dictate know where they are going or coming from but all are taking off. The university is an airport, you go there an acquire knowledge and take off and the destination is determined by the pilot in that plane and the pilot in that plane is you. You can study sociology, and you can end up being a strong entrepreneur, you study business but you end up opening a series of factories in agriculture. The entry conditions are more of the IQ than some subjects that you study and that is the way life is. Generally, what you study in school is good but the application of that knowledge with a wider mindset is what is more important. So that is what I will tell you. There are a lot of jobs. Often companies struggle with huge vacancies and are often unable to fill all vacancies in their institutions due to lack of competencies of the right staff for the roles. There are more applicants, many job seekers and not worker. This gives us the definition of unemployment.
In this field, your voice must be high, you must develop self-confidence. You must have that high level; you need to heighten your interpersonal skills and communication as key. You have to learn how to brand yourself through self-confidence and communication. You may be as skilled as anything but if you cannot communicate. So, there is need to develop confidence and build on public speaking abilities. What we observed is that there are some interns so brilliant but they can communicate and express themselves. Also, we need to build on reading and writing. The five core areas in the development field are: communication, self-confidence, public speaking, reading and writing skills. These are the foundations you should take up from your internship program and start exporting it to the world.
Certificates and the world of work
The world of work is full of abilities and competencies to drive results. However, education and experience are needed to build one’s self. But there is growing misconceptions on experience, abilities and educational certificates. Often, there is the high believe in pursuing high amounts of education. Without marching this with experience and skills acquisition. This becomes an issue as one can acquire endless amount of education without it being able to translate to the working life. This calls for the need to understand that performance remains the watchword within work environments as employers aren’t carried away by level of qualifications earned or attained within schools. However, there is need for young graduates to understand that education and experiences are key and adds more value. It should be noted that both aren’t in competition and thus should be properly managed effectively if you are in transition.
“Having a PhD is not a guarantee that you’re a with a First Degree will not be as competitive with him or her in the world of work. Here we don’t pay qualifications, in the world of work, your qualification is tested in productivity. And once you have a first degree and you can produce like a PhD holder you will earn like a PhD holder, and if you own a PhD and you produce like a First School Leaver, you will earn like him or her. So, PhD is not a prerequisite to a certain standard of life unless you do what is called knowledge application- so that is what you need to understand. I will always encourage you to study as hard as you can. But, remember, your degree is a piece of paper that indicates what level of education you have reached. Why are you not moving with it, on your head and another on your back so that as one passes you back, they will look at it and give you a job. That will never happen. But when you walk in, and you talk to an employer, the person can sense that you know what you are talking about. That is very important. Save and protect your certificates and take your brain and go look for a job. The truth is: what can you do? There is nothing like longevity that you feel that somebody who walks in cannot be your boss- the employer’s objective is not you, you are the means to get his company or get the organisation moving. Your focus should be performance, improvement, learning and more. The rest doesn’t matter,”- Tanyi Christian, CEO LUKMEF, 11th July 2023.
We are not measuring the impact of this program based on the number of persons who come in and graduate at th end. So, I will then ask that you make a good decision to whether be in the program or not after this session, we also would have your parents to pledge to support you in the program so you can be able to sustain in the program. Also be open to feel free to ask questions for personal counselling and coaching on the world of work. This age bracket you are in now, remains a great asset to make use of before you turn out to 50years. This period is often characterized by a sharp and retentive brain, a lot of energy, still in good health, still interacting with a lot of people. As such, it is an opportunity to build in much as you can and learn much as you can for the future. Don’t let your past destroy your present. No matter how your yesterday was, keep it with it. There is nothing you can do about it. It was yesterday, but today is a new beginning. Call this a new beginning and start from here. All of us have failed in life. But when you allow your yesterday to destroy your today, then you have no future. Just be professional to get your way to the future. Don’t be buried in what you studied. Take the opportunities and transform them to your passion