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The changing landscape of the railway transport industry poses significant human resource challenges. For this reason, operators should develop knowledge transfer best practices to ensure vital information and skills are retained within the industry.

For Madaraka Express, and by extension Kenya Railways Corporation, having a process in place to transfer skills from seasoned, departing Chinese employees to Kenyans will help the operator implement succession planning, onboard younger staff and provide ongoing training to prepare the workforce to adapt to change brought about by new technologies.

In business, knowledge transfer has become a common topic in mergers and acquisitions.  It focuses on transferring technologicy, market experience, managerial expertise, advanced corporate culture and other intellectual capital that can improve the companies’ competence.

In order to remain competitive and to deliver top-quality service, Africa Star Railway Operations Company (Afristar), the operator of Madaraka Express, has designed various training programmes aimed at developing competencies recognised internationally for various cadres of staff.

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Railway operations and maintenance are knowledge-intensive and dependent on technical skills transfer. To achieve the 90 per cent transition goal, the company conducts monthly practical and theoretical training designed to cultivate specific skills. The training includes induction with a focus on railway operations and daily on-the-job vocational skills training provided by industry experts. Professional development opportunities are provided to enhance the skill base of trainees and improve SGR efficiency.

Following the monthly quantified training exercises, employees are assessed using methods tailored to the relevant competence standards. Kenyans have been gaining skills to enable them  operate and maintain rolling stock, locomotive, dispatch, track, communication and signaling systems, freight and passenger services. Training in these areas is streamlined to efficiently develop relevant and useful skill sets that will empower Kenyans to take over SGR operations and maintenance.

Recently, I was privileged to travel together with 48 other Kenyans from Afristar, Lapsset, Kenya Railways and the Transport ministry to China for a three-week training on railway operations and management. In my view, the training was a great success and an accurate reflection of the commitment by the Chinese to eventually hand over a functional railway transport system to Kenyans.

So far, 79 Afristar employees have gained from educational opportunities in China. In 2019, 55 staff travelled to China, sponsored by the Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China. Afristar staff selected for training in China are high-performing employees who show leadership potential. They have studied at leading rail oriented institutions including Beijing Jiaotong University, Wuhan High-Speed Railway Vocational Skills Training Base, Guangzhou Railway Polytechnic and Southwest Jiaotong University. The courses are taught by renowned experts in their respective fields.

The existence of stronger, deeper and cordial Sino-Kenyan relations has ensured that training in China remains a successful undertaking. For instance, in 2017, seven passenger train - locomotive driver trainees undertook a two-month course at the China Baoji Railway Technician College. The training enabled the locomotive drivers to receive key skills that have enabled the company to meet the domestic high-speed rail service standards.

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Another example is the excellent customer service that Madaraka Express passengers receive, which is a result of training at various institutions in China. It is my sincere hope that the continued arrangement of such critical and crucial courses for Afristar staff and others will further cement the existing collaboration.

- The writer is the deputy manager, Corporate Affairs, Africa Star Railway Operations Company

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SGR Kenya Railways Corporation Madaraka Express
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