On this July day in Niš, the thermometers showed 39 degrees in the shade.
Unlike their peers, who sought relief from the heat at the pool, the seaside, or the numerous cafes of Niš, the students Aleksa, Natalija, Katarina, Dušan, Ivana, Milica, Katarina, Marko and Aleksa are at the Kamenički vis camp, attending Practical Academy.
What is Practical Academy?
“There are over 30,000 students in the city of Niš. The basic premise is to increase their employability, by delivering them with locally applicable practical knowledge, through networking with businesses. At the same time, students have the opportunity to help their environment, covering six underdeveloped municipalities, through practical work.
Everyone has an interest here: students acquire knowledge and practical skills, businesspeople acquire catalogues, logos, packaging, a pro forma invoice for construction, a report”, explains Dejan Mitić from the Local Development Association Kamenica, implementing this initiative.
What does the internship look like?
“During the first segment, the diagnostic internship, we take students to visit companies, and jointly with the professors we identify problems faced by the companies, ones the students can solve. This is followed by a phase of project idea incubation, where students are provided with an inspirational environment to work on solving problems. This phase entails the participation of professors and businesspeople, as well as experts. Finally, the implementation phase, where feedback is sought from the businesspeople on whether the delivered product meets their needs.
We developed the model through the project ‘Youth Employment Initiative’ with the financial support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. This is the second phase of cooperation with the Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit. And the cooperation is excellent, because they are results-focused“, notes Dejan.
What are students, specifically, working on during the internship?
“We tried to choose diverse companies, e.g. for Gerber from Ražanj, manufacturing metal structures, economics students are developing the economic logic of the endeavour, market segmentation for the fashion brand Kassker from Svrljig, students from the Faculty of Occupational Safety are working on a fire alert system for the furniture factory Trilord from Svrljig, as well as risk assessment for 42 workplaces at the Elid company in Donji Dušnik, manufacturing electrical materials.
Likewise, we have Dimenzija from Aleksinac, engaged in trade in elevators, Žicaprom from Svrljig manufacturing wire, Resor Gadžin Han building special vehicles, RB Kop working in large-scale civil engineering, procurement and trade in construction materials… there is a lot of interest among businesses “,Dejan says.
The camp is hosting groups of students from five faculties from Niš: arts, occupational safety, construction and architecture, economics, and mechanical engineering. The interns spend a week or two at the camp, work at their tempo, engage in sports, hang out together.
We asked the students how they learned about the internships and what their experiences are.
“We heard about this through the faculty. We were immediately interested, because it is a win-win situation: we can help certain companies in some way, while at the same time acquiring reference experience and direct contact with clients and the market.
For the time being, everything seems interesting, the environment is inspirational”, says Aleksa Skočajić, a student of the Faculty of Arts in Niš.
Everyone is seeking experience, agrees Katarina Stanković, a student of economics, and adds: “We are working on the project of an agricultural cooperative from Svrljig: they are planning to build a distillery, and we need to present the project from the economic standpoint: e.g. cost-effectiveness, time for return of investment, all of it with specific data, and with the help of mentors from the faculty.
Our professor recommended that we apply for this internship, because we will gain references that will mean a lot when we apply for an open call”.
As an architect, I am producing the main design for the construction of the distillery, it is very useful to cooperate with the Faculty of Economy, doing the calculations, and designing the structures jointly with the construction department”, believes Natalija Gagula, final year student of architecture.
“I am working on innovations, I am interested in what is available in the market regarding machinery, workforce, how trained they are, because when I come up with an invention, I have to know whether someone can build it”, says mechanical engineering student Marko Živanović.
“I’ve had the opportunity here to see which faculties can cooperate more, which is important for the work process, because as a mechanical engineer, I have to come up with that bit and determine whether it is all feasible in the end.”
“For us, it was important to encounter a real situation, i.e. a company. We have quite enough of theory, so this meant a lot. For the first time, real practice. The person tasked with occupational health and safety, fire protection and environmental protection within a company has a lot of responsibility.
Generally, we realized that we can do the tasks and respond to the challenges. The fact that five of us worked together also helped”, believes Katarina Jović, a student of the Faculty of Occupational Safety.
What do the professors say?
We visited companies, the students received specific tasks, and the value range for the work we contracted is EUR 10,000. Through these internships they receive guidelines and methodologies on what they should in fact do as master engineers of occupational safety.
Companies are interested in the programme, the students are satisfied, and after this, they are 80% ready to join a company”, believes Professor Sveta Cvetanović, from the Faculty of Occupational Safety.
They are working in a more serious manner, there is a defined deadline, they work under pressure, says Sanja Dević, a professor at the Faculty of Arts.
“There are no internships like this at the faculty, that is why the idea of this project is excellent.”
“Our goal is to show it is possible, that it has an effect. There are so many companies in need of help, as well as students interested in internships – they are constantly asking whether it will be repeated next year. For me, this is the most challenging and most beautiful project I ever worked on, and it gives me an additional boost of energy every day “, concludes Dejan Mitić.
This article was originally published on the Social Inclusion Blog.
The E2E project has been supporting youth employment and employability in Serbia since 2015. The Youth Employment Initiative is part of the Education to Employment (Е2Е) programme, funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, implemented by the Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit of the Government of Serbia. If you want to learn more about the project, click here: www.socijalnoukljucivanje.gov.rs/YEI and znanjemdoposla.rs