The Coega Development Corporation (CDC) established its then fledgling internship programme in 2008 with the express aim of providing the opportunity for experiential learning opportunities to unemployed graduates and students in specific study disciplines who are required to complete practical work in order to obtain a qualification. It got off to a modest start, but since then the Coega Internship Programme, which forms part of the company’s corporate social investment (CSI) initiatives, has grown from strength to strength and plays a real role in the early career development of a number of young professionals.

The CDC’s internship programme is a beacon of light for a range of graduates whose skills are honed under the guidance of mentors and experts and who are exposed to a range of experiences, training and development opportunities. In 2012/13 the CDC employed 124 exceeding its targets. It has done so again this year, 2013/14, with 173 interns employed within the organisation, 61 of which are new appointments in the financial year and the remainder are interns still working within their 18-month contract.

Initially Coega focused on strategic positions, prioritising a skills set in the construction and built environment industries, however in tandem with the CDC’s growth of the CDC, the pool of skills needed has widened and graduates are brought in from finance and admin, marketing and communications, safety and environment fields. Since inception of the programme in 2008, 569 interns have passed through Coega’s doors, of which 249 have secured permanent employment elsewhere. Two have gone to start their own businesses and become entrepreneurs. The Coega KZN Office has placed 41 interns since inception in 2010 and 19 of these have gone on to secure employment.

Interns are sourced from the Eastern Cape institutions of higher Learning and Eastern Cape graduates from institutions in other provinces are also considered. Through the programme the CDC creates a work environment that provides learning opportunities and practical work experience, prior entry to the labour market. In this way the CDC is contributing to the Provincial Growth and Development Strategy. All interns are paid a liveable stipend and guided by a mentor. They can choose to stay for between 6 and 18 months, unless they secure permanent employment during their time at the CDC, an outcome which is actively encouraged.

As the programme has grown it has started to have a much wider impact as the CDC requires all service providers to also implement similar programmes and this is included in the contractually binding documents. However, there is a caveat since an effective and sustainable internship programme is only as powerful as the job market and more needs to be done to stimulate the labour market’s growth in the region so that when the interns leave, there are actually jobs for them. The mismatch between what the private and public sectors require and what the universities and further education and training (FET) colleges produce is now a matter requiring urgent action.

Overall however, the CDC’s internship programme continues to contribute positively towards skills development and employment creation for unemployed talented graduates of the EC, thereby improving their chances of attaining employment in the highly competitive labour market.