If you are doing a 4-year degree in Zimbabwe, you will almost certainly be required to spend at least 1 year attached at a firm in partial fulfilment of your degree. This is a very important stage in your study and it usually carries the most weight towards your final degree grade. I however feel that there just isn’t enough guidance out there to students as to how to navigate this part of life or what to expect. For most students this is usually the first formal form of employment you might be undertaking therefore a bit of confusion comes with the territory. Here are a few points you might want to take along with you.
About the industrial attachment
In most universities, during your industrial attachment u will be required to spend at least 8 months attached at a real firm. During this time u will be assessed in two ways. First through your work-related performance and secondly through number of documents that you are supposed to prepare namely monthly log books, a mini research project and an attachment report.
The log book
You will be required to maintain a log book of the duties and activities that you are assigned during your attachment period. In this log book u also record the challenges you are facing and the strategies you will be undertaking to address these challenges. Usually you are required keep records of this on a weekly basis and have each report signed monthly by your supervisor at work. The supervisor will also make monthly comments as to your performance and progression. A template of the log book is usually given to you by the school department from time and time however where this is not provided, you may solicit these from students who have already completed this exercise before you.
The mini research
As part of your attachment, you will also be required to do a mini research project. This research project will be a minor version of a more comprehensive project that you will do in your final year if you are doing an honours degree. In this exercise you are required to identify a problem at the organisation or industry that you are working in. You are then required to investigate this problem in a systematic way i.e. through literature review, a proper research methodology of data collection, analysis and presentations as well as making appropriate recommendations of how this problem may be addressed. If the format of this mini research is not provided, you may also solicit it from students who have passed well in the area before you.
The attachment report.
In the attachment report, you are required to describe the organisations as well as the industry you work in as well as give a description of how what you learned as theory in school actually applies to the industry among other things. You will also be required to make recommendations both to the university and the organisation you are working for in terms of how any weaknesses you might have identified during your internship may be addressed.
Practical work assessment
Under normal circumstances, a supervisor should visit your workplace and assess you twice during your period of placement. This however varies depending on various circumstances such as the availability of resources, distance and other factors. Per each assessment your work supervisor is required to fill an assessment form that is submitted to your school supervisor. This will actually have a mark that is then combined with the school supervisor’s mark before you are awarded the final mark. Where you feel that the work supervisor has not given you a fair mark based on some personal problems that you might have had at work, you can always confide in your school supervisor and explain your issue and they can see how best they can assist you.
The application process
The most worry for most students is being able to find organisations that have vacancies. For this I recommend a number of strategies. In addition to other normal ways of job searching, such as searching for the jobs on the internet. one of the easiest ways of finding attachment easily is through referrals because most vacancies are not advertised. In this regard, if you are not fortunate enough as being connected through relatives, a good strategy is to maintain make yourself available with officials at your school such as the chairman since some vacancies come may come through your department. However, this need not to be on a personal level but might entail just being in a group where lecturers and other influential people usually communicate with other students. I would also encourage opening a LinkedIn in account so as to easily connect with other professionals that are already in the industry you seek to penetrate.
The power of social media
It is worth nothing that while social media is a useful in job searching, it can also work to your disadvantage. Some companies can easily understand your character and behavior just by looking at what you post, like and share. As a general rule you should revisit your social media accounts just to make sure that you do not have any obscene activity such as pornography, indecent posts, slandering of officials or organisations that you want to work for as well as expressing opinions that may not be aligned with the general societal morals and principles.
The Curriculum Vitae
You should draw up a good CV, with resources permitting you might even hire someone to do it for you. The major question that I get from time to time is should I include my grades? There is no right or wrong answer to this. Obviously if the organisation has requested for your grades then you should submit them in your application otherwise my advice is if you have good grades then you should clearly indicate your transcripts otherwise if your grades are poor, it is better not to include them as the attachment letter you get from school will be enough to show that you are a student registered under an institute who is due for attachment. Remember you are a student; most employers understand that this is a learning process. In addition to this, it is also useful to include a cover letter to your CV as a professional courtesy and to explain why you are a good candidate for the job.
How do I choose between jobs?
There are some students who can get multiple offers either from the onset or being offered a job while they are already working at another organisations. Two questions arise, (1) how do I choose between organisations ?, (2) am I allowed to change organisations during an attachment period.?
The answer to the first question is not obvious as it is a matter of personal choice depending on the personal objectives and offers involved. As a general rule I encourage students to think long term and go for the organisation that offers them a good work experience that is relevant to their study remember you will need to use this work experience to find a job after graduation but you cannot use a previously earned salary to find a job in the future.
Coming to the second question of changing organisations, this is a matter of university policy, for most universities you are allowed to change organisations as long as you still have 8 months ahead of you and you have not been assessed. If you need to change attachment because of other reasons beyond your control or personal safety you can always talk to your school officials about it.
Can I be attached outside the country?
It’s possible to be attached outside Zimbabwe. Usually the arrangement is the University pays for the lecturers' transport up to the border and u pay for any costs from the border
What do I do if I have been offered a job during attachment?
If you are fortunate enough as I was during my time, you may be offered a full - time employment by the organisation. In such a situation you should seek guidance from your school to see if they can make arrangements for you to continue working and still continue with your studies. Most universities have weekend school and block release available that can cater for such arrangements. You should obviously consider your personal circumstances and your ability to balance school and work however this is doable, I did it and still managed to graduate top of my class.