A comprehensive, detailed list of lessons learned can be found in “The NetHope Academy Internship Program Playbook” in the Supplemental Documents section.
Key critical success factors include:
- Identify NetHope’s unique value and contribution. Many skills capacity-building organizations (i.e., EFE) have a much larger and dedicated staff in place to run a high-caliber youth training program – both in- country and at HQ. Here NetHope’s unique value was to provide our expertise in the IT training and job placement area. Additionally, original technology partners, including Microsoft and Cisco, now have their own mature CSR/IT job placement opportunities and have streamlined their efforts to build upon those programs. The key is to always ask where NetHope’s (or your organization’s) unique value-add is and if/how it fills a gap in the market.
- Select an outstanding implementation partner. To run a successful program, a well-established and competent local implementing partner is critical; without a quality partner, one capable of running and sustaining the program, it should not be implemented. The partner must have existing, solid connections with local employers, recruiting firms, and government agencies to provide a solid pipeline of opportunities for program participants. In addition, the partner must have the capacity to build the program and be willing to march down a path towards sustainably operating the program (i.e., charging a fee to students).
- Student investment. Students must have some “skin in the game.” Don’t start the program as free – or be very clear that it will be free only for the first class. Work with financial institutions that have student loan programs – do not try to manage this payment process. This is key to program sustainability.
- Employer relationship-building. Significant effort must be put into finding and securing internships, building relationships with employers, and working to assist program participants in finding full-time employment.
- Combination of high-tech and high-touch. Online training alone isn’t enough to move the needle. Students need face-to-face contact and in-person mentoring to reinforce and support the consistently updated technical offerings. The same goes for all of the employer partners – despite being a technology-focused program, face-to-face sessions and on-site visits are critical to successful client relationships.
- Know the competing programs in the market. In Egypt, NetHope learned (after launching with a partner there) that most large employers already get top ICT graduates via a different government-sponsored program that provides much more specialized and in-depth training than the NetHope Academy Internship Program. In contrast, in Rwanda, NetHope worked directly with a similar government-run program to address an unmet need in the IT training space.
- Changing market conditions. Markets saturate. Even when there is a need for qualified ICT experts, it is difficult for junior IT professionals to find employment at times. In some countries, it is challenging to place 40-80 students a year, while in South Africa and India, the market can easily absorb hundreds of graduates in the same time frame.
- Foster future networking and collaboration. Interns created a Skype group with classmates to stay in touch and ask questions during their internships, as well as their own Facebook pages. Post-graduation many have continued this and graduates are key to recruiting top candidates for future classes.
- Quality is expensive. A high-touch program like the NetHope Academy Internship Program is expensive. Providing the kind of instruction and mentorship that an unemployed youth needs is time-consuming and costly. Many “learning to earning” development programs promote reaching hundreds of thousands of youth with interventions that cost less than $50 per person.