Tuesday, 23 September 2014

So, which Congo is it?

The ancient kingdom of Kongo
When we first had an enquiry for a large project in the Congo, I was blissfully unaware that there are two Congos in West Africa. Despite the fact that earlier generations of my own family had been traders in the region, I did not realise that there had been a French and a Belgian Congo whose colonial borders were still reflected in countries that sit either side of the Congo river as it flows into the Atlantic ocean.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the larger of the two Congos, inheriting its borders from the old Belgian Congo. To the north east, lies the Republic of Congo, once a French colony so, while the two countries may have different borders, they both share French as their official language.

Enter Sean Ong. Sean is A&E Manager for the Far East, based in Malaysia and is responsible for training delivery in his region and elsewhere. He spends a lot of his time travelling in the Middle East as well as Australia and China for product trials, training and exhibitions. As the Congo project involved training an entire application team to complete a large ongoing application, all Sean's expertise would be focussed on getting the training completed as effectively as possible.

The CA30 arrives at the beach - but can't find a deckchair
Sean was one of two A&E employees sent over to Pointe Noire in the Republic of Congo (once we had realised that we couldn't get their visas from the DRC consulate). He was accompanied by Josh Nash, a UK Supervisor who had already been to West Africa as part of an Enviropeel training team in Nigeria. With his experience on large power generation structures, Josh was there to lend practical expertise on unusual substrates, as the Congo project involved applications to a different type of structure than the gas and oil pipelines that Sean was used to. The French company had bought Enviropeel material and a twin-pump CA30 application unit and our team was there to train the application team and provide practical guidance on the development of special application procedures.

Sean speaks a number of Chinese dialects as well as English and some Malay, so he does not usually have difficulty with communication. Although the company running the Congo project was French, all their documentation (of which there was a considerable amount) was in English, as were their emails and all the meetings we had with them prior to mobilisation. So it came as a shock to all of us that few people on site - and almost none of the people they were to be training - spoke any English.

Once the Interpreter had a better understanding of the
process, it was much easier for the trainees
Training the Interpreter
Although they were assigned an interpreter, it proved very difficult to translate many of the concepts that lie behind the application methodology. Setting up the machine and switching it on was simple compared with the nuances of spraying techniques so they decided to train the interpreter first. This seemed to make a big difference and, although the process was still very slow, the local trainees began to apply to a reasonable standard. At the same time, one of the company engineers was also trained to service and repair the equipment. 

Josh returned to the UK after 8 days and by the end of 17 days, when Sean was scheduled to return to Malaysia, three team members were certified as Enviropeel applicators. Nevertheless, it was felt that, although good progress had been made, the existing team would benefit from a further period of in-job training and that a greater number of qualified applicators were required. So, the following month, after an initial scare from the advance of the Ebola epidemic, Sean returned to the Congo to train a further 4-6 applicators. At the same time, the company decided to purchase a second application unit to improve productivity. 

It's still early days but progress has continued in application quality and efficiency with reports from Sean indicating the potential for a very successful outcome for our new African colleagues.

Pictures left show an engineer being trained to service a pump, two trainees applying Enviropeel and an application being trimmed in preparation for the final sealant application.

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