Training Day: MTR Crossrail's Director of HR: What HR can learn from Japan's railways

Training Day: MTR Crossrail's Director of HR: What HR can learn from Japan's railways

Alison Bell, Director of Human Resources at MTR Crossrail, spoke to us about how Japan's railway service maintains such high levels of efficiency, their unique learning and development strategy, and what the UK can learn about the value of teamwork...

In Japan they have something called the 'Dr Yellow Phenomenon'. Parents will take time off work to take their children to see Dr Yellow. There are Dr Yellow branded t-shirts, hats, shoes and soft toys. And it’s just a maintenance train that runs every ten days or so. How have the Japanese railways managed to become so efficient - and loved?

Since the privatisation of the Japanese railways in 1987, the seven for-profit firms that took on the national assets and operations have managed to turn its railway into the country's most successful and admired organisations, one that’s globally renowned. We went to Japan to look at the inner workings of the JR Group, and in particular, to understand its approach to HR and L&D. The insights from the frontline have been a real eye-opener.

Of the 18,400 employees, a good proportion are older workers and the organisation is very conscious of the need for continuity. Therefore, on-the-job training forms an important part of knowledge and skills transfer. JR tracks education and development like a personal medical record for each member of staff, who all spend time at the general education centre. This isn’t the occasional day of update training, or even a special week for the top executives - people stay for two months alongside the teachers. The business doesn’t just pass on learning but makes the JR Group an important part of employee lives, embedding culture and values. Staff learn together rather than as competing individuals.

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