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Aga Khan Academy doubles work placements for pre-uni students

Natasha Treunen writing a report during her internship
Natasha Treunen writing a report during her internship

Natasha Treunen writing a report during her internship

The Aga Khan Academy, Mombasa is running a pre-university internship programme that is placing its Diploma Programme students in a six-week long internship to gain work experience and transferable skills, making them more employable.


The Academy’s move comes at a time when the quality of graduates produced by universities and colleges in Kenya has been under scrutiny by employers due to their lack of practical experience and skills, contributing to high unemployment levels among the youth.

A report by the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA) in 2014 found that more than half of Kenyan graduates were unfit for the job market, with one of the reasons cited being lack of practical experience.

In September 2015, the World Bank reported that the Kenyan education system was failing to produce graduates with the knowledge and skills crucial for Vision 2030. The report titled ‘Kenya’s Education Achievement and Challenges’ found technical and vocational training systems had few linkages and little or no relevance to the labour market.

With Kenyan employers raising increasing concerns about the relevance of education to workplace skills, Aga Khan Academy, Mombasa has created extensive internships for its school students and has now doubled the number of students going through the programme, with work placements in Kenya, across East Africa, and in Canada.

Human resource expert Suzanne Mwai, with a leading recruitment agency Flexi Personnel, said the lack of practical knowledge among graduates is one of the major reasons why Kenyan employers are reluctant to hire fresh graduates since they have to be re-trained, a factor that puts financial strain on employers.

“There exists an employer-graduate mismatch because impressive papers are not what get graduates a job. Employers are looking for practical experience, which internships provide. They want someone who can start a job with little or no training instead of spending weeks on training, which sometimes has to be paid for,” said Mwai.

This gap has seen the Aga Khan Academy, Mombasa invest in extensive workplace experiences, with students starting internships at the end of June or early July until mid-August, with institutions that include the Global Centre for Pluralism in Canada, Aga Khan Health Services in Kenya, Aga Khan Foundation In Uganda and Aga Khan University in Arusha depending on students’ preferences and geographic location.

“We encourage our students to do early internships because it allows them to get the opportunity to explore their passions and gain clarity on their intended career paths,” said Zohra Lakhani, Student Leadership Programmes Manager at the Academy.

Early exposure to the workplace, between 16 and 19 years of age, is also highly effective at gearing the Academy’s students to workplace success, giving them early and practical training in fields that include education, health services, research, communications, and finance.

The students apply for internships through the Academy, in a process that includes the submission of an application and resume, and interviews, in the same process as is required when applying for a job. This helps the Academy match students to ideal internships.

Genesis Kayemba-Mungufeni, aged 17, went through the programme in his home town of Arua in Uganda, working with the Aga Khan Foundation to develop education and environmental conservation in the under developed town.

“I was incorporated into all aspects of the AKF projects, working both in the field and office. Translating materials into the local language, designing banners, taking photographs and writing success stories were part of the things I did,” said Kayemba.

An early internship gives students like Kayemba the opportunity to get a feel of the work environment and creates networks that sometimes help them get jobs after graduation, through early workplace exposure that is not conventionally given to high school students in Kenya.

“I learnt that planning for future endeavours is essential, but even more is being prepared for any situation in regards to on-the-spot trouble shooting and improvisation, as I was required to do in some situations. These skills are ones I will forever cherish,” said Kayemba.

Natasha Treunen, who did her internship last year with the Educating Girls in Science (EGIS) programme in Mombasa, said the internship helped her understand how organizations work and also gave her a chance to interact with many people. EGIS is a programme that encourages and enables girls to apply science- based solutions to address issues in their communities.

“I learnt how to communicate with people as well as work with others to achieve a similar goal. The internship helped me want to do psychology and maybe consider counseling or teaching as a career someday, since I enjoyed mentoring the high school girls,” said Treunen.

The placements also help students make career decisions, reducing the chances of students taking a major at university and then changing it later in life.


“We help the organizations play a mentoring role for the students as they learn more about the work and themselves while serving as interns. Through the student profiles, the organizations are able to recognize the extent of the students’ abilities and potential early on in the internship. Therefore, they do not shy away from assigning responsibilities to the students and engaging them in meaningful work for a richer learning experience,” said Lakhani.

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