As a concept, it is a formula that has proved popular on television screens around the globe: take a high profile businesses or entrepreneur and allow people to compete in business challenges to earn a shot at the corporate big time as a fabled apprentice.
While reality shows like “The Apprentice” have proved hits with audiences in the UK and the US for the last decade, the Maldives this month concluded its first attempt at producing a business-focused reality TV – under the local guise of “The Interns”.
In a live final broadcast on Television Maldives (TVM) on July 15, a team of students from the Centre for Higher Secondary Education (CHSE) – coincidentally the show’s youngest participants – took the top prize of apprenticeships with some of the country’s largest private-sector employers.
But beyond the practical opportunities and job offers seemingly afforded through participation in reality TV contests, what real world opportunities does the Maldives’ private sector presently hold for the country’s next generation of graduates and school leavers?
Speaking to Minivan News this week, Deputy Minister for Education Anthu Ali said that for many school leavers in the country, regardless of their “academic merits”, a miss-match presently existed between the skills they were being given and those required by employers.
“When we consider the skills an employee needs in the country, say if they are applying for a secretarial role, the candidate may have the language knowledge of English and Dhivehi, but they are not taking short hand or these type of skills,” she said.
According to Anthu, the Education Ministry remained particularly concerned over the prospects available for pupils leaving school at 16, who did not going on to pursue further studies.
“A main challenge is for the 16 year-old pupils who are not going on past their O-levels,” she said. “For those students without the capacity to go into higher education or to do their A-levels, we need to be providing foundation studies.”
Anthu claimed that the government, over the last three years, had been working to try and develop a “platform” that served as a pathway for young people leaving school to help them into the job market.
“This is what we have tried during the last three years – even this year. What I mean by a pathway is not higher academic education, but vocational education,” she said.
According to Anthu, meetings have been taking place ass recently as this month with the tourism sector – as one of the country’s most significant employers – to increasingly tie the lucrative resort industry into this pathway.
She claimed that when looking at human resources nationally, there was a significant number of skilled jobs in the tourist sector being fulfilled by a mostly expatriate workforce.
Anthu said that local employees often “don’t have these skills”, adding that opportunities were required for training to open up these areas to local employees.
Allied Insurance Company of the Maldives, one of the key sponsors behind “The Interns” show, said that beyond trying to boost its own Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives, the television programme was devised from the company’s own concerns about finding suitable employees.
Company Managing Director Abdul Wahid Thowfeeq said the company had opted for a reality show format that would grant students the chance to gain experience in national marketing as well as showcasing their respective skills.
“The basic idea for the show came from the fact that Allied Insurance needed marketing personnel and we generally found there to be a lack of good candidates,” he claimed. “This is a problem faced by many companies here in the Maldives.”
Thowfeeq added that the company opted to back sponsoring a reality show as it hoped to encourage “real students” to experience marketing in a real world environment.
“We conceptualised the show so that even people at home could see there were opportunities here. There are the prospective jobs here, but the youth do not always appreciate the opportunities that are available,” he said, “They are also not aware of the expectations of their employers and the differences between education and workplace challenges.”
According to Thowfeeq, the objective of “The Interns” , at least from the company’s perspective, was fulfilled.
“Once the programme began, many of the participants featured got job offers – not just from Allied, but many other large-scale private employers in the country,” he said.
Discussing the inspiration for the programme, Thowfeeq said that while there were some similarities to “The Apprentice” in terms of content and design, the show was very much geared to local tastes and marketing challenges, such as having participants promoting the popular roadside beverage vendors around the capital.
He added that these challenges focused specifically on playing up the importance of key workplace skills such as customer service.
Thowfeeq contended that such challenges were of particular importance in the Maldives to provide skills in areas not presently covered in the national education curriculum for many students.
“Generally there is a gap between education and the job sector. When students complete their education, they tend to have high expectations of the job sector, but they do not have the orientation or skills to meet these needs,” he said. “A common feature of the job market is that employees do not understand about working in organisations or as part of a team.”
Thowfeeq said that besides better orientating graduates and school leavers to ensure they are prepared for work, employment should also have a positive factor in the country’s development.
“There are lots of influences on peoples lives right now, both societally and politically, we need to give a sense of hope to young people, hope that there is a promising career out there for them,” he said.
Thowfeeq contended that some of the challenges regarding training young people were n addressing that the skills required from workers in the country had drastically shifted over the last ten years.
“The skills needed for jobs in the Maldives are very different right now, especially in marketing. People need to be more specialised in their roles, more professional,” he claimed. “More training in this regard is needed for employers, but they are not getting opportunities. However, the youth themselves have to be willing to undergo this training, as well as be patient. The basic purpose of this programme was to educate the youth about prospective jobs. Such a show helps ourselves and other companies.”
In terms of sourcing contestants for the show, the programme makers are said to have invited colleges from across the country to nominate certain students for inclusion . The eight teams chosen represented institutions including Maps College, Clique College, Cyryx College and the Maldives National University.
The eventual winners were Jayyida Badhry (19), Mariyam Hana (18), Ali Aslam (18), Mohamed Sameer (18) and Ahmed Nashiu Naeem (19), all representing the CHSE.
Speaking to Minivan News, Badhry, who before the show had been enrolled as part of a business studies course at CHSE, said ‘The Interns’ had provided a unique opportunity to develop practical skills currently not provided within the education syllabus.
“The show was a really good opportunity as we got to have many different experiences such as in understanding TV advertising,” she said.
Despite the group’s relatively young age compared to rival teams, Badhry claimed that the team’s success had been a result of team work and trusting each other to use their individual strengths.
“We are still quite young as a group and we didn’t have much experience, so we tried to make up for this through team work,” she added.
Of the five finalists, four are expected to commence a special internship with Allied Insurance after Ramazan, while one of the team will be taking a role at a prominent national marketing group.
According to Badhry, the experience on the show was proving to have an impact on her life ahead of taking up the new role – a job she was excited to begin.
“For anyone who is interested, I would recommend them looking for opportunities like this to gain practical experience of work life, It has been really great,” she claimed.
However, Badhry’s fellow team mates stressed concern that while there were opportunities out there for young people in the job market, there appeared to be some reluctance within the wider business community to entrust students with such responsibilities.
Nonetheless, back in the world of local reality television Allied MD Thowfeeq claimed that plans were already under way for a similar – though perhaps not identical – business-targeted show for next year.
“We are thinking about continuing the focus with a similar show next year, though we would like to select another professions relevant to the local community where the skills of young people need to be improved,” he claimed.