At KK Group, Getting the Best Security Officer for the Job

By WASHINGTON AKUMU

With the words of the guard at the entrance to the Ngong Racecourse still ringing in my ears, I take the first right turn and immediately notice the sign: KK Group Training Centre.

The notice is big enough to be legible, yet neither intrusive nor invasive. As I drive on the narrow red earth road, ringed by tall trees and the occasional bamboo bush, it is clear that no effort has been spared in maintaining the general peace and quiet of this neighborhood, even in matters of signage.

The first thing that assails me as I get out of the car is the unusual chill. True, Nairobi has been cold lately for June, which many say is  July come-too-soon (July is traditionally Nairobi’s version of winter), but this heavily forested part of the Ngong Racecourse clearly has its own little micro-climate thing going. The city has been going through a teeth-gritting cold spell, but it is definitely colder here.

My coat fully buttoned up, I make for the gate where two uniformed KK Group security officers welcome me with smiles and the stiffest of salutes.

I notice the huge throng of humanity that is slowly swelling like a throat at the gate. They are a motley crowd: men and women, young and old, tall and short, officially and casually dressed. It occurs to me that this assembly was the destination of choice for the many dusty shoes and determined brows I encountered on my short drive here.

Most are clutching brown envelopes as if their very lives depended on this single, all-important gesture. Their expectant gazes are trained on the metal gate and the two men manning it, as if they are waiting for something, a vital, life-changing sign.

Inside the spotlessly clean compound, whose architect seems to have made a clear effort to blend with its green, natural environment, my host Lucas Ndolo, KK Group’s Training Manager, and his lively team of trainers stand at ease, waiting. From their easy poise, it is clear that this is a drill they have perfected to a step.

“Welcome to the KK Training & Recruitment Centre. You are on time for our weekly recruitment exercise,” gushes Ndolo, a bubbly and articulate man who walks around with a gait that I have come to associate with people who are on a higher scale of physical fitness than myself, the type that says I can pounce if the need arises.

At exactly 9am, he bellows to his trainers: “Are we ready?”

With martial precision and unity, they all answer in the affirmative.

As if on some over-rehearsed cue, the throng troops in, silently. It is quickly divided into two groups by the trainers: one for ladies, the other for gentlemen.

The next step is very simple, really. Two height thresholds (floor would be more like it, since this is the shortest allowable height) have been set in metal within the compound. I gather that the bar for men is set at 5.9 feet, while that for women is at 5.6 feet.

The candidates are supposed to walk to the benchmark and see whether they make the mark, all this under the very watchful and uncompromising eyes of the trainers.

I have never reckoned with the finality of height as a standard. It is a case of either and or… There are no in-betweens. The visual evidence is there for all to see and, sadly, you can do something about your weight, but certainly not your height, especially when you are over 24 years old, which is the lower age cut-off point for a would-be KK Security Officer. Standing on tip-toe or getting high-heeled shoes cannot get you far either, as the trainers will see it from a mile off and wearing of shoes is not allowed for this initial part of the process, anyway!

Those who make or exceed the height bar are retained for the next phase of the recruitment. Those who do not make it, are politely advised to leave. The trainers do not allow for any of that Kenyan specialty: a “private” talk with the recruits, firmly advising those still persistently seeking such an audience, even after failing the ‘height test’, that their business in the compound is done.

I make out a young man whose head just missed the mark by a few inches. His black leather shoes seem to have suddenly added a few more grams in his hands. He takes one last wistful look at the bar, as if willing the gods of height to make one last intercession on his behalf.

He shakes his head and gets down to the business of tying his shoe laces. He lingers a few seconds longer than usual in this simplest of tasks. A trainer waves him on. In front of him, the gate and joblessness beckon. Again! Behind him is a group of those “blessed with height” to sufficient to have made the first step on the journey to becoming a KK Security Officer. The unfortunate man gets the message that he cannot undo his height or what has been and promptly leaves. There must be something else he can do, I almost hear him mutter under his breath, his shoes kicking up the dust.

“Our standards are cast in iron. We can never compromise on our standards. When we offer our services to clients, they have certain expectations that we have to live up to, if not surpass. This [recruitment] process is at the very core of what we do; it is very important to us. We are only as good as our officers. I can assure you this is the most competitive, rigorous and transparent recruitment process for security officers in the entire industry in this region,” explains a visibly proud Ndolo.

Following the height stop, the original throng at the gate (which was around 400 people) has been whittled down to below 200. But it is not over yet. This group has just started on a rigorous 12-day journey that will see the successful ones graduate as Security Officers with the KK Group.

“It is a long and arduous process. Many drop along the way. It is designed that way. At the end of the day, we are looking for a security officer who is capable, willing, motivated and dedicated and will add value to our clients. We do not hire those who are just looking for a job,” adds Ndolo.

I notice that, among the recruits, there is a group of older men who have been separated from the rest and are getting the attention of  Ndolo himself. Unlike the other recruits, they seem to have the self-assuredness that comes with age and experience. It is almost like they have been through such processes before.

“These are ex-servicemen. They are a special case. We have been contracted by a company called FSI to recruit 400 such people for assignments in Afghanistan. While the company will conduct the interviews themselves, our role is to ensure that these recruits retired or left the disciplined forces with a clean record and have the right documents,” says Ndolo, adding that KK Group had mounted a vigorous media campaign to attract such candidates.

Back to those who are being recruited by KK Group for its own deployment, the next stage is age verification. For this exercise, the recruits are expected to produce their original national ID cards. And even here, unstinting fidelity to set benchmarks is strictly upheld.

“We do not accept anything else but an original ID. No copies are allowed. The cut-off age is 24 years. The recruit must have attained this age before the exercise starts. Even where one is younger by a few days, we ask them to come the following week or when they have finally met the requirement,” offers Maina, the Chief Trainer.

The motivation behind this, says Maina, is to recruit Security Officers who are “emotionally mature and stable” and who can handle the challenges that come with the assignment.

The next phase of the recruitment process is centered on physical fitness. The recruits go through a process which determines their ability to handle the physical strains of their work. Besides visual observation by the trainers of limbs and other body parts, the recruits are expected to carry out simple exercises like push-ups and press-ups to gauge their levels of physical fitness. Marks are awarded based on one’s performance and attributes such as good body size, muscle mass and fitness always gives a recruit an added advantage.

But it is not just about brawn.

“We always want an officer who can communicate with the client and understand instructions as given. We do not just want someone to open and close the gate. Our minimum level of education is a KCSE certificate. For KCPE graduates, whom we also recruit sometimes, they must have attained at least a minimum C+ in the English language. Interestingly, we also attract quite a number of university graduates.”

Today, there are at least four such recruits with undergraduate degrees in subjects ranging from Information Technology to Food Science and Technology! And there is one KCPE graduate, with the majority parading KCSE certificates.

Again, the academic documents must be original and not photocopies. The names they bear must also tally with those on the ID card. To my mind, this sounds like an arduous task, but to the trainers, it is a simple routine as they can spot a fake certificate with the precision of a KNEC (Kenya National Examinations Council) official. They can even tell you with equal precision which county produces the highest number of fake certificates!

It is clear that this is a major hurdle for the recruits and, by the time the trainers are done with the verification of academic papers, only a few recruits are left.

“For us, honesty is non-negotiable. We just wish the wider Kenyan society could live by this mantra,” offers Ndolo, an ex-serviceman with the Kenya Army, who had extensive commercial security experience with Socfinaf and Alliance One Tobacco before joining KK.

Those who pass through this stage are expected to come back to the centre from 1.30pm for an oral interview process conducted by three senior KK Group managers on the same day. The interviewers grade the candidates separately and the scores are collated to determine who makes it for the 12-day training. Out of an original group of 400 candidates at the start of the day, only about 30 or less normally make it past this level.

The training is divided into two modules, with the first week dedicated to theory, while the second week is for giving the trainees a practical feel of their work. Over 18 topics are covered: orientation, local law and power of arrest, terrorism and criminality, fires and explosions, mission emergency plans, physical security measures employed by missions and basic guard duties and patrol procedures.

Other areas of training are guard force communications, general orders and post orders, maintenance of logs and preparation of incident reports, unarmed defense and handling disorderly persons, use of personal equipment, access control equipment use and procedures, observation techniques and static surveillance detection techniques.

The trainees are also taught about emergency response, dealing with diplomats and mission employees and ordinary citizens and basic first aid. Emergent issues like crime scene management and HIV/Aids awareness have also been incorporated in the 12-day program.

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