Kenya: German Telecoms Trainer to Address Skills Shortage in Kenya’s Mobile Industry
Thursday, 03 July 2008
Andrea Bohnstedt speaks to Bernhard Kuhn, TOP Business AG’s Vice President for Training and Consulting, about the company’s joint venture to provide training for mobile operators’ operations and maintenance staff in Kenya.

 

In late 2007, TOP Business AG, a telecommunications training and consulting firm, held a trial seminar with Safaricom staff in Germany. Even though the training was well received, it quickly occurred to Bernhard Kuhn, TOP’s Vice President for Training and Consulting, that the maths didn’t make sense: The costs of flying Safaricom staff to Germany, paying for the course fees, and putting them up in a hotel for up to 70 days were a huge expense, and an unnecessary one, too, if a TOP trainer can just as easily come to Nairobi to do the same training there.

TOP spotted a business business opportunity in a market where competition for qualified staff is about to intensify markedly: The telecommunications industry had registered one of the strongest growth rates in Kenya’s economy in 2007 at over 30%, and will become even more dynamic with the entrance of Econet/Essar and the expansion of Telkom after the acquisition by France Telecom. Human resources will be a constraint – already the new entrants are busy poaching staff from existing operators.

TOP aims to address this skill gap, beginning with the introduction of manufacturer-independent training in operations and maintenance for mobile telecoms operators. These contents can be taught in open courses as they are not network specific, and the operators do not have to disclose proprietary knowledge. On his trip to Nairobi in June 2008, Kuhn signed a memorandum of understanding with the Kenya College of Communications Technology (KCCT) to offer those courses jointly. KCCT will market the courses, do the administration, and also provide the facilities for the training. The first courses are scheduled for early 2009.  

Working with KCCT as a local partner means that TOP, for who this is the first transaction in sub-Saharan Africa, only have very limited exposure, and none of the headaches attached to a larger financial investment. However, even as a newcomer to the market, Kuhn was not deterred by the political violence in early 2008 – the post-election conflicts had led to some delay as the talks with KCCT had been ongoing in late 2007, but Kuhn does not see his target market fundamentally affected in the longer term. The telecoms industry had shrugged off the problems relatively easily.

And if there is a good response to TOP’s courses, they have mapped out several ways to expand their engagement: In addition to the open courses, TOP can offer operator-specific trainings and also consultancies. The company also provides web-based training. Although not suitable for all technical areas – it works best for basic training, or mixed with classroom training –, the great advantage is that it allows the operator to administer the training programme themselves. Vodafone, Kuhn points out, already employ web-based training on their intranet.

That TOP’s products appear to address a gap in the market is also clear from the reaction from other organisations in the industry: On his June visit to Nairobi, Kuhn paid a visit to the Kenya ICT Board who had suggested a similar bootcamp for fixed-line operators, and Joseph Ochola from the Kenya Business Process Outsourcing Society had proposed call centre training. The regional market provides additional opportunities. Kenya may be the largest economy, but the sector is just as dynamic in the other EAC markets. In Uganda alone, three new entrants are expected established operators Celtel, MTN and UTL – and with an even smaller labour pool, competition for trained staff will be fierce.

 




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