A framework for internship programmes


in South Africa



By Alice Lubega and Cecile Schultz

Cranefield College of Project and Programme Management

Pretoria, South Africa


The plight of unemployed graduates in South Africa cannot be overemphasised. Rand Water’s recent adverts seeking qualified, unemployed graduates for the Graduate Internship Programmes, attracted a big number of applicants trying to get into the work environment. This scenario highlights the challenge of graduate unemployment in South Africa which raises concerns about the functionality of the higher education system and the employability of the graduates it produces. The purpose of this study is to present insight into graduates’ self-reported learning outcomes after completion of the Graduate Internship program which has been developed into a framework for implementing effective internship programmes to ensure the successful transition of graduates from the academic environment to the workplace. A qualitative research method was used to investigate the problem of graduate employability and an interview guide was used to collect data from ‘graduates’ on how the internship program enabled their employment. The unique contribution of this research is a proposed framework for implementing effective graduate internship programmes to enhance the project management processes thereof at Rand Water.

Keywords: Graduate employability, Graduate internship, Graduate internship programme, Intern, Internship, Mentoring

  1. Introduction

Youth unemployment signifies one of the main challenges worldwide that the majority of countries are currently faced with (Jubane 2020, 1). Jubane (2020, 13) points out that youth unemployment is very high in South Africa, “which has resulted in a decline in the national Gross Domestic Product because labour resources are idle”. Rand Water as the principal water utility in the country has pronounced its intent to take part in skills and capacity development by embarking on a Graduate Internship Program financed under National Treasury’s Infrastructure Skills Development Grant (ISDG), to assist municipalities with capacity and infrastructure-support related projects” (Rand Water 2015, 152). The mandate of the programme concerns the training and development of unemployed graduates to generate skills in the fields of artisans, engineers, process controllers and scientists for local Water Service Authorities (Rand Water 2015, 152).

Research findings show that the essential prerequisite to addressing youth unemployment in South Africa is the economic growth in a variety of sectors that creates jobs for different skills (De Lannoy, et al. 2020, 127). De Lannoy, et al. (2020, 127) add that economic growth “alone will not address the fact that too many young people from poor backgrounds will continue to be excluded from the South African labour market”. The high costs of job search, a lack of cultural and social capital, spatial segregation and poverty represent additional obstacles experienced by young people in their effort to access the labour market (De Lannoy, et al. 2020, 127). Jubane (2020, 13) recommend designing programmes that concentrate on equipping the unemployed youth with the expertise needed by employers in the labour market.

Media, public discussions, and published research studies discuss the rising levels of graduate unemployment in the South African labour market raising concern about the functionality of the higher education system and the employability of the graduates that it produces.  According to Statistics South Africa, the official unemployment rate was 46,3% in Quarter 1 2021 among youth (15-34 years) and among university graduates, the rate was 9,3% (Statistics South Africa 2021, 1).

The graduate unemployment problem has been categorised as one of the socio-economic issues affecting South Africa (Cloete 2015) and while graduates have difficulty in finding jobs in their qualification disciplines, organisations are suffering from a lack of skills in different fields, but are unwilling to employ inexperienced graduates (Greyling 2015). In order to bridge this gap, human resource development strategies such as internship programmes have been implemented for graduates to gain the required experience to compete in the marketplace (Anjum 2020).

  1. Problem investigated

South Africa is faced with frequent service delivery protests and one of the underlying causes is the absence of a skilled workforce to deliver a range of services in the municipalities. Many municipalities struggle to deliver, operate, maintain, and service infrastructure cost-effectively and sustainably, which results in component failure and rapid deterioration of assets leading to regular prolonged disruptions in service delivery and even total disrepair in some municipalities (National Treasury, 2020; Morudu 2017:3).

The key contributor to poor asset management practices is the lack of critical technical and built environment skills (Watermeyer & Phillips 2020, 9). The problem is generally greater in rural areas, but also affects some urban municipalities (cities). This challenge has been exacerbated by the loss of technical skills due to global competition and the skills age gap between those nearing retirement or retired and those who recently qualified from academic institutions or recently joined the workplace.

Graduates struggle to find employment and this prevents them from gaining relevant work experience which, in turn, presents limited opportunities for professional registration within their fields. The scarcity of professionals, especially in the built environment, contributes significantly to the declining infrastructure as well as the incapacity to develop and maintain the existing infrastructure, which impacts service delivery in local municipalities (National Treasury, 2020; Watermeyer & Phillips 2020). Lack of Professionals, especially in the built environment, contributes significantly to the declining infrastructure as well as the incapacity to develop and maintain the existing infrastructure, which impacts service delivery in local municipalities (National Treasury, 2020; Watermeyer & Phillips 2020).

The researchers concur that internship programmes are a platform to bridge the gap between the education and labour systems by providing the requisite work experience to improve the graduates’ employability (Cloete 2015).


To read entire paper, click here

How to cite this paper: Lubega, A. and Schultz, C. (2022). A framework for internship programmes in South Africa; PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue VII, July. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/pmwj119-Jul2022-Lubega-Schultz-framework-for-internship-programmes-in-south-africa.pdf

About the Authors

Alice Lubega

South Africa


Alice Lubega is a Project Manager at Rand Water in South Africa and has been in the Academic environment for 11 years managing Graduate Development programmes at Rand Water Academy.  The Programme is aimed at developing graduates across different disciplines to create a pool of professionally registered individuals to assist in the maintenance and operation of services in the Municipalities and is currently busy with a project to get the Academy accredited for Engineering Development Programmes. She is registered as a Chartered HR practitioner with the South African Board of People Practices, an accredited Skills Development Facilitator, Assessor and Moderator. She specializes in Project Management and Human Resource Management. She holds a Masters in Programme and Project Management (Cranefield) and Honors BCOM, Business Management.  She can be contacted via email at allylubega@gmail.com


Cecile Schultz

South Africa


Cecile Schultz is a professor at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) in South Africa and has been an academic for the last 24 years. She is also part-time involved with Cranefield College. She specialises in the future of human resource management, strategic human resource management and future work. She obtained funding from the National Research Foundation in South Africa to conduct research about the future of HR. She is a member of the South African Board of People Practices and is a registered psychometrist at the Health Professions Council of South Africa. She has currently initiated a niche research area about the future of work and the alleviation of poverty within the Faculty of Management Sciences at TUT. Her passion for community development is illustrated in her involvement in the work readiness training sessions at the People Upliftment Programme (POPUP) since 2006. Her ORCID ID is https://orcid.org/0000-0002-7048-7892. She can be contacted via email at profschultz@cranefield.ac.za.