Apprenticeship critical to localisation of Standard Gauge Railway

Monday, June 22nd, 2020 00:00 |
A section of Standard Gauge Railway under construction. Some affected land owners are yet to be compensated. PD/FILE

 Olivia Mengich    

In a world where technology and innovation is increasingly shaping the way we do business, any company worth its salt should put in place apprenticeship programmes that enable skills transfer from those nearing retirement to the younger generation. 

As the demand for skills in civil engineering, traffic management and digital technology continues to rise from employers, institutions of higher learning have stepped up efforts to ensure this is met.  

In England, for instance, there are now over 100 universities in the register of apprenticeship training providers, and the number of degree apprenticeship programmes has increased from 1,614 in 2016/17 to 7,114 in the first four months of 2018/19.

The top five degree apprenticeship standards are Chartered Manager, Digital and Technology Solutions Professional, Senior Leader, Chartered Surveyor and Registered Nurse.

The range of degree apprenticeships increased from 11 in 2016/17 to 32 currently. 

Leading international companies that have embraced apprenticeship programmes, include CVS Health, Toyota and Mercedes Benz.

Closer home, South Africa’s Eskom and SAB also offer apprenticeship training. The benefits of apprenticeship cannot be overstated.

For employers, it increases employee retention, strengthens the employer brand and enhances productivity.

On the other hand, employees can earn while learning, receive recognised qualifications, gain real work experience and develop skills that improve employability. 

In Kenya, staff of Africa Star Railway Operation Company (Afristar), the operator of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), receive on-the-job practical training in various railway specialties.

The practical training aims at helping staff acquire operation skills and enhance those they already have.

For instance, in the locomotive department, the assistant locomotive drivers and trainees learn to drive a train, while passenger transport staff learn how to operate the ticketing system and serve passengers. 

Afristar’s on-the-job training programme has been complemented by study tours to China.

Based on the different training programmess offered in China, staff members have been exposed to various railway disciplines.

Some have been very practical in nature, like the training in signal and communication, which includes modern railway commanding, signaling equipment and their application.

Another programme has been on transport and integrated transport systems. Several others have been on operation management. These have been great eye-openers, serving to broaden the staff’s technical skills. 

As part of the preparations to hand over SGR operations to Kenyans, Afristar has implemented policies aimed at a skills transfer programme to ensure sustainability. 

For purposes of technical advancement, staff taking technical positions are grouped into trainee, preliminary technical level, intermediate to advanced, with strict and scientific advancement procedures.

Staff also join the annually organised technical competitions, with the winners recognised and awarded every year.

They are selected to give lectures and offer demonstrations to other staff for reference.

On staff promotion, around 240 staff are team leaders and supervisors at various positions, exerting their role in the management and assisting in the technical transfer process.

Afristar has 2,187 local employees, majority of them hired under the 123 railways specialties and are undergoing training and apprenticeship, leading to certification.

However, the time it takes before certification depends on the disciplines the staff are pursuing.

It varies across Track, Signal & Communication, Locomotive, Rolling stock and Transport.

So far, the passenger transport team has reached 97 per cent localisation, as they are able to work independently.

Though the normal acquisition of a locomotive driver’s certificate in China takes between five to seven years, the tailor-made intensive training for Kenyans ensured that the first batch of 15 locomotive drivers was certified by Kenya Railways in May 2019, three years into operation.

The second batch of 14 locomotive drivers was certified in early 2020.  —The writer is a deputy manager, Corporate Culture, Afristar

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