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From Where We Sit

Are students (and businesses) really learning on the job?

Internship, Practicum, On-the-job training (OJT); we call it by different names. But it is simply an opportunity offered by business establishments mostly to students interested in their industry—a supervised practical training for students at the company’s offices.

In the Philippines, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) had set the guidelines for student internship program under its memorandum order CMO No. 23 Series of 2009, or the guidelines for student internship program in the Philippines (SIPP). The CMO states that the objective of the SIPP is to provide tertiary students the opportunity to acquire practical knowledge, skills, desirable attitudes and values in reputable establishments or industries.

The CMO has set the guidelines not only for schools and students, but also for business establishments that will accept interns.

But how much does OJT impact the students? Is learning actually taking place in the business establishments? Is the internship program an effective training method? And does it really prepare students for their future work?

There are several factors that contribute to the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of OJT. These include, but are not limited to, (a) the program, (b) the entity-trainer, and (c) the student-trainee

The program, according to the CMO, is something that the entity-trainer and the student-trainee’s school should agree on. This should include the tasks that will be assigned to the student-trainee during the internship. While the tasks are supposedly properly defined, there are still classic horror stories of students made to prepare coffee for their entity-trainers, do personal errands for the company’s employees, file papers the whole day or help in the cleaning of the office.

The good news is that times have been changing! Nowadays, most entities-trainers have shifted their mindset from just getting additional manpower (with the acceptance of interns) into offering a meaningful learning program that would attract target students to later join them. Internship, for some entities, has become a recruitment tool.

Thus, meaningful tasks that are often given now have become job-specific; for example, an accounting student-trainee preparing and posting journal entries, or a Journalism student attending a press conference and writing about it, or an IT student troubleshooting a hardware failure.

The student-trainee also plays a significant part in determining the effectiveness of the OJT program. The student-trainee’s attitude (towards the work specifically assigned) and personality (as it fits in the work environment) are critical to the success of the program.

I remember one of our interns (who eventually became our staff member after passing the CPA boards) telling me that she learned a lot from her OJT. So I asked her, “What exactly did you learn?”

“Patience, flexibility, and the importance of the quality of work,” she answered and proceeded to tell her experience revolving around such values. Clearly, this student-trainee embraced every opportunity presented to her.

In the Philippines, as the CMO stated, the evaluation of the implementation of internship programs rests with the CHED. Unfortunately, no reports or documents related to this matter are accessible for public use. Incidentally, many studies abroad conclude that OJT is the most effective form of job training.

A research published in the Journal of European Industrial Training identified that while OJT can be effective, there are actually four levels of effectiveness. These are: (1) Reaction of trainees (students’ satisfaction with the program), (2) Learning results (developed skill by the student-trainees), (3) Job behavior (the student-trainees’ conduct towards work), and (4) Returns to the organization (the student-trainees’ contribution to the bottom line).
At the firm level, the entity-trainer can gauge the effectiveness of OJT through post-evaluation, with the use of exit forms or by conducting focus group discussions with the interns or deliberate observation on the work of the interns; after all, one term for OJT is observational learning. Students, given the right environment for the assessment, are usually forthright in their comments if they learned anything and enjoyed (or not) their time with the company. These are indications of whether the internship program has actually reached Levels 1 and 2 of effectiveness.

On the other hand, Levels 3 and 4 deal with the student-trainee’s work ethics and whether the student-trainee contributed positively to the attainment of the entity’s mission and vision. This is manifested when a student-trainee, after graduation, joins the entity-trainer and takes part in its operations.

So, are students really learning OTJ? Are they able to acquire practical knowledge and skills necessary for their future work? Mostly now, the answer is “Yes.”

While many entities-trainers still pass on many routine administrative tasks to the OJT trainees, still many entities are now enlightened about the OJT program and are passing on more meaningful and impactful work to the trainees.

The OJT program makes it inevitable for entities to create opportunities that are supposed to contribute to the students’ work competencies.

I believe the other important question to ask now is, “Are business entities really learning about and contributing to the OJT program?”

Elah Andal Perez is a senior manager, People & Culture of P&A Grant Thornton. P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading Audit, Tax, Advisory, and Outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 21 Partners and over 700 staff members.

As published in The Manila Times, dated 28 September 2016