March 31, 2014 00:00 By PRIYAKORN PUSAWIRO, DR. ING
AN INCREASING number of Thai students have headed overseas for an internship as they hope to enrich their experiences, seek hands-on knowledge and upgrade their profile.
That sounds good, doesn’t it? But such goals will be achieved only when their overseas internship really gives them what they are looking for.
Across the world, putting the right interns in the right tasks will optimise internship benefits for the students and the employers.
An internship can create a win-win scenario. It is, after all, quite similar to on-the-job training or apprenticeships.
There is give and take between the two sides. But before the internship starts, both sides should plan well.
At King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi’s (KMUTT) Computer Engineering Department, we have sent students to internships in various countries including Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, Japan, France, Germany and United States, mostly in research labs and every year.
For this, I have visited several universities and companies in Germany to work with them on how best to arrange internship programmes for my students. The programmes cover normal internships and research internships.
A research internship is when students do research for a particular task at the research and development section of a company or a university. Research Internships exist in a wide variety of industries and settings.
Accordingly, students learn to think critically and analytically during working on specific research.
Through day-to-day routines at the company or organisation, students also learn to work actively and communicate well with their other employees. As a consequence, they learn and practice their social skills and soft skills indirectly.
When any problem arises, they will learn about problem-solving skills and more.
Through the internship students also learn how to work in real working environments and gain insights about various job positions. So, there is a point where they can determine whether a particular position really suits their interests and abilities.
I, myself, always hope that after students have completed their internship, they will realise which career path they would like to embark on.
Overseas internships have also given students several clear advantages over those doing it in Thailand. Apart from improving their English or foreign-language skills, I have found to my delight that students have also acquired intercultural and open-minded perspectives.
Importantly, students learned to argue their ideas critically and rationally. They must have picked up some skills from internship-teamwork meetings.
But to develop successful internship programmes the adviser or supervisor of the employment organisation is a crucial factor, since students need to bridge their theoretical learning with the professional work.
The support of a supervisor and an unambiguous task list are essential for students to interpret their knowledge to the right services or work.
For Thai students, they can apply for an internship abroad via several channels, such as the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience, which is an independent, non-profit, and non-political student exchange organisation involving over 80 countries and over 4,000 trainees each year worldwide.
At KMUTT, we have an international affairs office that helps students find internships abroad according to our partner universities and companies.
Additionally, we also have a programme called “Work Integrated Learning”, which gives students the opportunity to undertake a work experience placement as part of their course and also gives students an activity or programme that integrates academic learning with its application in the workplace.
This is a paid co-operative education placement, which means students get paid and gain marketable skills and other experience during a six-month to one-year stint.
How can we create successful overseas internships for Thai students? Who should get involved?
In my opinion, the Minister of Education, the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Foreign Affairs must work collaboratively via government-to-government contracts.
I think Thai embassies in various countries should also help in connecting and contacting overseas companies to expand Thai interns’ opportunities.
The world has already become globalised; so Thai students should receive the support they need to attend overseas internships.
Such internships will benefit not just the students but also Thailand and its various industries.
Won’t it be good to have graduates with useful work experience, a multicultural understanding and practical skills!