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A group of journalists onboard SGR train during the commissioning Naivasha dry land port on June 3, 2020. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard].

In a world where technology and innovation are increasingly shaping the way we do business, any company worth its salt should put in place apprenticeship programmes that enable skills to transfer from those nearing retirement to the younger generation. In apprenticeship, trainees learn a craft or trade by hands-on experience while working with a skilled worker, usually under a written or implied agreement.

As the demand for skills in civil engineering, traffic management and digital technology continue 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 on the register of apprenticeship training providers, and the number of degree apprenticeship programmes increased from 1,614 in 2016/2017 to 7,114 in the first four months of 2018/2019.

The top five-degree apprenticeship standards are Chartered Manager, Digital and Technology Solutions Professional, Senior Leader, Chartered Surveyor and Registered Nurse, and the range of degree apprenticeships increased from 11 in 2016/2017 to 32 currently.

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Other countries whose institutions of higher learning have strong apprenticeship programmes include Australia, China and Germany.

Companies have also not been left behind in their quest to innovate and address the skills gap. The benefits of apprenticeship cannot be overstated. For employers, it increases employee retention, strengthens the 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.

It is noteworthy that apprenticeship has been widely embraced in railway operations as they require a high degree of technical skills. Such programmes provide an opportunity to operate in an innovative workplace while utilising the latest technology to develop a skilled workforce and support citizens in gaining valuable, nationally-recognised qualifications.

In Kenya, the 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 specialities. The practical training aims at helping staff to acquire operation skills and enhance those they already have.

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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. Rolling stock staff learn how to prepare the trains and solve mechanical issues, such as how to ensure the flow of air duct and to adjust wheels and alignment of other parts.

Afristar’s on-the-job training programme has been complemented by study tours to China. Based on the different training programmes offered in China, staff members have been exposed to various railway disciplines. Some have been very practical in nature, such as training in signal and communication, which includes modern railway equipment and their application.

As part of the preparations to hand over SGR operations to Kenyans, Afristar has implemented a series of policies aimed at an elaborate skills transfer 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

-The writer is Deputy Manager, Corporate Culture at Afristar

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