Original Research

Insights into the theory-practice gap: Perspectives from South African industrial psychologists

Elaine de Greeff, Crizelle Els
SA Journal of Industrial Psychology | Vol 50 | a2139 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajip.v50i0.2139 | © 2024 Elaine de Greeff, Crizelle Els | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 03 September 2023 | Published: 25 April 2024

About the author(s)

Elaine de Greeff, Work Well Research Unit, Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa
Crizelle Els, Work Well Research Unit, Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa


Orientation: Emerging industrial psychologists enter into an internship after completion of their studies. Interns sometimes lack the required competencies, which may be a result of a gap between theory taught at university and expected competencies in practice.

Research purpose: The general objective of this study was to explore the beliefs of supervising industrial psychologists regarding the theory-practice gap, and the perceived competence of graduates entering industrial psychology internships.

Motivation for the study: The existence of the theory-practice gap in industrial psychology in South Africa is largely unexplored. Understanding the current level of competence and identifying the aforementioned gaps, universities and interns can proactively reduce the perceived gap.

Research approach/design and method: A qualitative descriptive research design was employed. Data were collected through qualitative surveys among a homogenous sample of 13 industrial psychologists supervising interns. Content analysis was used to analyse the data.

Main findings: Interns display some competencies, while lacking others. The majority of the participants confirmed a gap between theory acquired at university and industry. The participants made recommendations to universities and interns to close this gap.

Practical/managerial implications: Identifying a theory-practice gap and the impact it may have on the competence level of emerging professionals, students and universities can adapt their learning and teaching strategies to potentially help minimise the gap to ensure graduates are more competent when entering internships.

Contribution/value-add: This research study adds qualitative insights on the topic of the theory-practice gap, specifically the perceptions of supervising industrial psychologists within South African organisations.


industrial psychology; industrial psychology intern; supervising psychologists; competencies; perceptions; theory-practice gap

JEL Codes

I23: Higher Education • Research Institutions; J24: Human Capital • Skills • Occupational Choice • Labor Productivity; O15: Human Resources • Human Development • Income Distribution • Migration

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 4: Quality education


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