Companies that want to thrive in the digital age must prepare their employees for the new challenges that lie ahead. That’s because the skills required in the new working world are changing dramatically.
In the future, flexibility and agility will play a much more important role. Employees will increasingly have to be able to work independently while collaborating across national and organizational boundaries; they will have to interpret data and think systematically. Lifelong learning will therefore become a must for everyone – whether apprentices, researchers or managers. This is why, for instance, we at Merck are familiarizing apprentices with augmented reality; it’s why we send our top talent to Stanford and offer all employees an extensive array of advanced training options – and why we recently launched a learning app focused on the digital revolution. I’ll come back to this later.
I firmly believe that as a company, we can provide our employees with the necessary skills through systematic vocational and advanced training. The transformation of industry will cause jobs to change and evolve – just as it has always done, but perhaps now at a faster pace. For example, with the automated production lines of the future, the focus will shift from operating machinery to developing and monitoring processes. Across all industries, more and more jobs will call for cognitive thinking and interactive approaches. In my opinion, we can shape this transformation if we act now.
“Wherever possible, our apprentices are given the flexibility to decide when and where they work. This enables them to learn how to work independently and be self-starters.”
Augmented reality in technical vocational training In recognition of this trend, we are therefore focusing heavily on digital education. Take, for instance, our chemical technicians, who, during their basic vocational training, learn how to set up and operate digital systems for instrumentation and control engineering. They delve into the world of robotics and mechatronics while gaining exposure to digital process control systems. In addition, we use mobile electronic devices in all vocational training occupations and foster personal flexibility and curiosity by deploying apprentices in a wide variety of units or sending them to work abroad. Wherever possible, our apprentices are given the flexibility to decide when and where they work, an option used mainly in the commercial areas of our company. This enables them to learn how to work independently and be self-starters. Augmented reality tools are also used in vocational training for technical occupations.
In addition to vocational training, we must also address digitalization in advanced training and continuing education. In my opinion, this starts by sensitizing employees. I believe we must actively engage our employees, addressing and alleviating their fears. We must of course show them the real benefits of the new world of work on their professional lives today and even more so in the future. And many employees have already recognized this benefit, as reported in a recent article in our online magazine “pro”. To achieve this, I think it’s crucial to be physically present, to talk with employees face to face and – most importantly – to listen to them. I expect the same of all our executives. This will allow us to systematically analyze the qualifications of our employees in order to define suitable career development plans. In this analysis, we differentiate for instance between technical-professional and methodological-personal training needs.
We recently started offering all employees our Digital Basics app (see large photo), which provides an intro course on digitalization broken down into four lessons. This learning app allows our workforce to get up to speed on digital transformation and is divided into the following four topics:
- Digital evolution: What skills will be needed to succeed in the digital world?
- Digital marketing: What new marketing developments have arisen and how are they impacting organizations?
- Data science: How can we leverage digital data for the benefit of our businesses?
- Future technologies: How will work in the future?
Partnership with Stanford for executive development
Digitalization is also an advanced training topic for our executives, which is why Merck recently joined forces with the Stanford Graduate School of Business. This partnership involves a new module for our internal Merck University, a program offered to our top talent (the photo shows Dave Weinstein, Associate Dean, Executive Education at Stanford GSB, left, and myself when we signed the agreement). The new module is called “Leading Innovation and Digitalization at Merck”, a title that makes our expectations of this continuing education initiative clear. It aims to teach participants the respective terminology as well as the technological possibilities of the digital age, showing them the potential applications within their respective area of responsibility. Last but not least, the visit to Silicon Valley is intended to inspire and motivate them. After all, how often do people have the chance to learn and live so close to the pioneers of digitalization? In addition to featuring one week of on-campus lectures on topics such as innovation management, collaboration and Big Data, the module also involves an eight-week online course with two live events on the “Innovation process for intrapreneurs”. The entire program is framed by introductory online courses on subjects such as digital evolution, digital marketing and data science, along with a hands-on course at Palantir, a company we are partnering with.
Personally, I recently had the chance to return to San Francisco and experience the atmosphere there. Once again, I was inspired by the way my Silicon Valley counterparts approach the work they do in their respective companies and universities. Now it’s our job to breathe this spirit into our company so that we can leverage opportunities and smoothly navigate this new world of work. At the same time, we have to accelerate the vocational and advanced training of our workforce, whether in Germany or abroad. Then we will be prepared for the future.