Govt concedes that public service internships are ineffective

On Youth Day, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the state will be launching the Future of Work Ambassadors Programme next month.

President Cyril Ramaphosa visited St John's College in the Eastern Cape as part of government's Youth Day celebrations. Picture: @PresidencyZA/Twitter

JOHANNESBURG - Are you a young graduate under the age of 35 and interested in modernising South Africa’s public service?

If yes, then the Future of Work Ambassadors programme is tailor-made for you. To absorb young people into key public service posts, the government has announced that it will be introducing the new scheme after finding that the current internship programme was inefficient.

As mentioned for the first time by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Youth Day, the programme will “focus on improving and modernising the recruitment and retention of youth in the public service.”

Over 43,000 young people are currently in the government’s graduate internship programme, but the outcomes have been undesirable.

Acting Deputy Director-General for Human Resources Management and Development at the Department of Public Service and Administration, Nyiko Mabunda, on Monday told Eyewitness News that the internship programmes were not serving the purpose they were created for, with departments unable to absorb people who graduate, with many ending up going back to the unemployment pool.

Young people between the ages of 25 and 34 make up 42,1% of the overall unemployment rate in the country, with those between 15 and 24 at 63,9%, with graduates in the age group at 32,6%.

“So, what we have found is that because of the internships have not been working in government, you have a lot of interns that are being sent to make copies and buy lunch and do menial work instead of what they are supposed to be learning in government,” he said.

And this is where the new scheme comes in. Here’s a rough breakdown of who qualifies to get in when posts are advertised:

• Anyone under the age of 35 can apply.
• Be a graduate.

• You have to have the skills relevant to the programme including innovation, data communication sciences and data analysis.
• Be willing to travel internationally.

However, this is not where the intervention stops.

Mavunda said they have also researched how to resolve other challenges including the lack of growth prospects faced by the graduated interns once absorbed into government. This includes removing obstacles faced by educated young people who want to access the Senior Management Service level.

“It takes a lot of educated young people longer than they are expected to reach SMS level, which then becomes a problem, leading to an ageing public service which is not agile, modernising, digitising and it does not help when we talk about professionalisation, it does not help for the public service to be spending so much money on people who will be retiring in the next 15 to 10 years,” he said.

The goal is to reimagine South Africa’s public service in terms of how it is organised, the service it delivers, and the people who deliver it to achieve the priority of a government which is building a capable and ethical state.

“What we want to have is specific mentors who are contracted to the DPSA and specific contracts that we have with the Future of Work ambassadors where we will take responsibility to make sure they are doing what they are supposed to be doing in terms of the work.

“If we are successful in this project, we will be able to know what has worked and what has not worked and make sure that out of 43 thousand interns that we have across the public service, this is the model that we should use,” he said.

So far, the programme has secured funding for the next 24 months with a thriving partnership between the DPSA, NYDA and Public Service SETA.

A new partnership has already been struck with the United Nations Development Programme to take the initial 33 young people already recruited to different countries in the world to learn about the new public service management. This means outside of being a part of this new intervention to the country’s youth unemployment crisis, many will also travel to different destinations to learn.

‘They have already secured a trip to Saudi Arabia to learn about digitisation and modernisation that they have there. After that, there is a trip to Kenya and Uganda.

We are excited about it and we hope there will be lessons not only for the interns but for the public service and how we move forward,” Mabunda explained.