Smart equipment, digital business models and a globally connected economy are driving new world of work. At the same time, the competency profiles called for by the digital world of work are changing drastically. So as not to lose ground in the age of Industry 4.0, employee advanced training is a crucial investment for companies today. In this blog, I’d like to present one of our innovative advanced training initiatives at Merck to you.
New technologies, new requirements
The digital transformation is creating new realities and is doing so at breakneck speed. Almost every week, the media reports on new, innovative technologies that are creating entirely new business fields and are competing with established business models. At the same time, companies are equipping their offices and factories around the globe with new technology to become more productive, efficient and innovative. If companies want to survive in the digital world, they must always stay up-to-date. They need to monitor the latest technology trends, ensure that their own technology in production facilities and IT infrastructure are always state-of-the-art, and continually question and adapt their ways of thinking and working.
Certainly a lot of change at once. It is therefore crucial that companies make their employees fit for the new challenges. After all, new technologies, business models and working methods require new competencies. This applies to specialist and technical knowledge, for example when it comes to using new computer programs or digitally controlled machines, dealing with Artificial Intelligence or the ability to interpret data.
The new digital possibilities also require knowledge of the opportunities and limits of the new technologies. If, for example, a computer simulation can replace a test cycle in the laboratory, then development processes can be set up a lot differently. Nevertheless, a digital simulation can never be completely compared with a process in the real world.
Understanding this is a challenge in itself. In addition, the digital world of work also calls for new personal qualities and the ability to apply new methods. Flexibility and agility will become just as important as the capacity to work independently while collaborating across national and organizational boundaries.
Colleagues as coaches
Lifelong learning will therefore become a must for everyone – whether apprentices, researchers or managers. I can only underscore this. But companies should support their employees in this. At Merck, employees can choose from numerous advanced training offers. One of our latest and probably most innovative offerings is “working out loud”. This offer was developed last year by our HR team in cooperation with the Merck Innovation Center and is a so-called peer coaching method.
The focus is on employees teaching themselves new skills and sharing experiences. Merck merely provides the platform and the work equipment needed. What is learned and how it is learned are decided by the employees themselves. Whether leadership skills, IT competencies or knowledge in a specific subject area – there are no limits to what employees can learn. It is crucial that at the beginning of the program, each employee defines a personal learning objective he or she wants to work on with the group and to which the joint learning process is to be targeted.
Do it yourself
How does “working out loud” operate? The employees meet in fixed groups of three to five people once a week over a period of 12 weeks to coach each other on the basis of a given structure. All Merck employees can take part. The meetings can take place in person or virtually, depending on whether all participants of a group work at the same location or not. When putting together the groups, Human Resources pays attention to diversity and possible language barriers, otherwise the principle of randomness applies. The initiative is resonating well. So far, more than 200 employees have participated in a so-called “working out loud” circle.
This is also due to the fact that in our view, the “working out loud” approach offers numerous advantages. On the one hand, we rely on the existing knowledge and experience of our employees and thus benefit from the swarm intelligence in the company. Through the self-organized approach of the method, the participants also always practice acting on their own responsibility – no matter what topic they are actually working on. And last but not least, working out loud gives employees a platform they can use to expand their personal network within the company, which in our view represents one of the key elements of employee development.
Always keep employees in mind
Irrespective of how good new technologies or new ways of working may be, people need to understand and apply them in order to rise to their full potential. The future world of work will only deliver on its promise of greater efficiency, productivity and innovation if companies continually improve the skills of their employees. Any innovation, whether technical or process-related, should inevitably raise the questions: Do we have to prepare our employees for this? And if so, how? By addressing them, companies can set a successful path forward.