Last week, there was quite an uproar on social media against the abuse of internship by some tech startups in Nigeria. Here is the tweet that triggered off the uproar:
Stop 👏 slapping 👏 intern 👏 on 👏 top 👏 of 👏 a 👏 full 👏 job 👏 role 👏 so 👏 you 👏 can 👏 pay 👏 the 👏 barest 👏 minimum
— Olori • Lade Tawak (@deaduramilade) February 16, 2017
What Is Internship?
let’s start by defining internship. An internship is an opportunity offered by an employer to potential employees, called interns, to work at a firm for a fixed, limited period of time, usually lasting no more than 12 months. Internships are usually undertaken by students and graduates looking to gain relevant skills and experience in a particular field.
Internship in itself is a very valuable practice in any industry. It is a system that helps develop skills and experience for interns in exchange for work and a small remuneration. It is a mutually beneficial relationship.
As for remuneration, what each startup or business pays will depend on their financial muscle. It is just like the way salaries differ across companies.
Focus On Abuse
However, what the tweet that triggered the uproar was all about is the taking advantage of internship as a means of employing highly skilled labour in exchange for peanuts. I do not see how anyone who has seen some of those crazy internship vacancies put out by some Nigerian tech startups can argue against the outrage. When a start-up requests for someone with great graphic design skills and 2 years work experience to come intern (and in exchange for a pittance), something is very wrong.
A university graduate or even someone with top skills certainly can intern, and I will give an example of a valid scenario. Let’s say a law graduate or an accomplished lawyer wants to get into digital media. Such an individual is prime candidate for internship and should not be expecting the pay of a graduate. Their university certificate has zero bearing on the internship. In other words, despite his great knowledge/skills as a lawyer, this person is a novice in the new field he is stepping into. Very valid.
It must be said, however, that there is a lot of abuse of internship going on in the Nigerian Tech startup space. Interns are regularly treated like trash in a number of places. Startups looking for cheap labour keep asking for overqualified people to come serve as interns.
These things happen before our eyes everyday. And people are in order to protest it. Change begins with us. Startup founders cannot keep acting like jerks while demanding that politicians be humane. That is gross hypocrisy. Of course, it does not take away the fact that there are other tech startups that run great internship programmes. But the outrage is very valid.
One is certain that there are many cases in which interns too have unrealistic expectations and act out of turn. We will deal with those issues separately. But here and now, the focus is on tech startups and their founders – and the abuse of internship that is fast becoming more of the norm than the exception.
Leaders should set examples in issues of fair was and justice. And in this case, what the protesters are asking for is just that. Can our startups and founders be fair in their practices towards interns and indeed all cadre of employees? Is that too much to ask for?