June 16, 2015

16/06/2015: The African Milling School comes to fruition


First published in Milling and Grain, April 2015

(Update: Milling and Grain visited the African milling school in March to see the first batch of 27 students undertake their training. Read the full report in the May magazine HERE.)    

Sponsored and funded by Bühler, the new African Milling School was commissioned in March 2015 and took in its first batch of 27 African apprentices. 

The school is the brainchild of Martin Schlauri, who for the past 15 years has been Bühler’s Milling Business Unit Manager. Martin has moved from Uzwil in Switzerland to Nairobi, Kenya, where he now heads up the African Milling School.

The school is part of Bühler’s Middle-East and Africa organization and is located adjacent to the East Africa offices and Service Centre.
    
Professional training for African millers
The new school offers comprehensive and intensive training in the milling industry with a focus on theoretical and practical training through apprenticeships.

The target is to offer professional training for the next generation of millers and to expand on the knowledge base of experienced African millers. It is also to ensure that millers come to understand the new technology and equipment now being used in processing grain into high value finished products.

The African Milling School is located in Nairobi, Kenya, and situated just 25 minutes from Nairobi’s international airport. 

           
“Africa is a great continent, almost one billion people with a growing demand for grain-based food due to both population growth and the movement of people to the cities. More people are moving into cities who can’t go back to their homes and grow their own food. These are the two key drivers and as a result we are seeing growth in the demand for flour and milled products.” he says.

Local family companies that are well developed mostly own milling companies in the milling sector.

“These people have the will to develop, they have the market and they are entrepreneurs, but they do not have the skills. Running an operation efficiently is always an issue. Africa has good people, it has educated people, it’s just that the skill for the miller is missing,” he told Milling and Grain when we visited Bühler’s head office in Switzerland at the end of the summer.
     
“So this is where we said that if we, as Bühler, can contribute to the development of the milling industry in Africa, to the wealth of Africa and Africans and to educate and give them the skills to run milling plants, we aim to train 24 next year and 48 the following year so that they then pass on their knowledge in a sustainable way."
         

The concept of the Milling School
“We looked at different concepts such as working with Universities. It was at the time we were developing our new location in Kenya and we said, ‘Now we have a completely new location and an office and service centre, why not have the African Milling School on the same location? We have an infrastructure there.’

“The early aim was to set up a pilot school for 20-25 production managers. However, we decided to look at training millers, not just production managers. We really need to train millers, as these are the people who touch the machines, who set the rolls and who work with all the equipment through to the sifters.

“That’s the concept we have implemented.”

Twenty-seven apprentices will attend three four-week live-in courses per year over a two-year period. The first course took place in February-March 2015 and was booked up when Milling and Grain visited.

Apprentices who successfully complete the two-year course and pass appropriate exams will graduate as millers, a qualification equivalent to a European miller in Germany, Switzerland or Austria. Mr Schlauri says participants in Europe take three years to complete the same course as many of the students start at just 16 or 17 years of age.

“In Africa our apprentices will be 20-years old or older, they will be more educated and more mature and we can focus just on the milling topics. Between courses the school will build up its teaching resources, its infrastructure and milling expertise.
         

“It’s hard to find the type of miller to teach who wants to communicate and give his knowledge to others. All milling schools around the world struggle with this fact."

The school is open to Africans focusing on English speaking countries and its location in Kenya makes it ideal to service the whole of Africa’s milling industries. By sending apprentices to Africa rather than to Europe or the USA, companies can save about three-quarters of the cost associated with training. The fees have been set for 2015 at US$4800 per student per year.

“It would cost at least four times as much to send them to Europe, and that’s why [an African school] really makes sense for an African miller.”

Three key factors underline success

There are three convincing arguments that support the school’s establishment in Africa, which represents almost one billion of the world’s population and is likely to see a faster rate of population growth than anywhere else on the planet in the coming years:

  1. Raw Materials - The biggest impact will be on the use and return from raw materials. Good millers save money by meeting target moisture levels, yield targets and achieving improved grain cleaning, etc.
  2. Maintenance – There are significant costs associated with running equipment especially if the plant is not properly maintained. Re-fluting, or re-corrugating rolls is one area. If you have a trained miller he will be able to tell you.
  3. Setting up the mill – Ultimately, it is the whole mill set-up that needs attention and can save significantly on energy and other inputs and resources.
If the concept of the Milling School is successful in Africa, Bühler will consider other regions for future schools. It is obviously too early to say, but there are large areas in South East Asia that have no training facilities to hand. And there has already been interest for a similar project in Latin America. However, countries such as India and China are being well catered-for.

Mr Schlauri was quick to point out that this is not a marketing strategy but an industry service that Bühler is providing.

“The millers in this region are just ready for a school,” he says.

Over the next couple of years the school might expand rapidly, given that it’s already filled for the first year and the facility is not yet completely finished.

“It’s good to have higher demand and 24 is a good number. We will keep to that. We want to use this facility to offer training to different sectors, from wheat millers to maize and feed millers and in pelleting.”

With wheat, corn (maize) and feed milling, this region is one of the most diverse markets and it’s a region that offers a wider range of opportunities, he says.
     

“The task I’m undertaking is not just about the administration of the school, as well being a teacher in technology and quality control. After 15 years as head of grain milling I’m very passionate about this move. I started my career in Africa and I have a lot of contacts in the region.

“This is just a step sideways for me and I will be keeping my contacts with many millers in this region and this is the region I know best and I will enjoy finishing my career here."

The setting up of a school in Africa for millers has been his concept: 
“I’ve promoted it and encouraged Bühler to sponsor it. Now I want to get it running. Besides, when you have had a very rich milling life, this is a way of saying thank you and giving something back,” he adds as a final remark.
 

Read the April magazine HERE
(Update: Milling and Grain visited the African milling school in March to see the first batch of 27 students undertake their training. Read the full report in the May magazine HERE.)
 

The Global Miller
This blog is maintained by The Global Miller staff and is supported by the magazine GFMT
which is published by Perendale Publishers Limited.


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