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A Shifting Approach to Employee Learning and Development, with Tami Wolownik and Christine Laster

Tami Wolownik is Head of People and Organization at Siemens Mobility and Christine Laster is Head of HR at Siemens Mobility. The two of them recently sat down with Jonathan Westover on an episode of the Human Capital Innovations Podcast to discuss employee learning and development.

“We all want to work for an organization where we’re energized and excited and proud to show up and do the work that we do, recognizing also … things are hard too. It’s not like everything’s always roses and we have to deal with the challenging things as well.” It is incredibly important to balance these two things to ensure that employees feel safe in their work environment, while also promoting learning and development. The state, “The workforce has to change for the future because of the skill sets that are required for the future with this heavy focus on digitalization, with the metaverse, with doing things differently and in different ways.” So, business leaders need to promote learning among employees to adapt to the ever-changing workforce and the tools available.

Additionally, companies need to provide a “... learning platform that’s encouraging people to learn more about digitalization, more about the new technologies that we need to deliver to our customers at an even faster pace than we’ve ever seen technological innovation occur before.” This is because many employees and companies are changing to remote or hybrid work, which requires employees to have a more indepth knowledge of computer technology and tools.

Another important point to note is that companies who have better training and learning programs provided to employees “... want the learning to be meaningful. And so they don’t want to just learn for the sake of learning. They want it to be meaningful and something that they can utilize.” Tami and Christine noted that “... [b]efore … [they] created those training programs, …[they] were losing a lot of people because … [the employees] didn’t understand the job, they didn’t understand what was needed of them, [and they] felt that they didn’t have good enough training.”

With the constantly changing landscape in the world of work, employers must provide adequate training programs and encourage learning and employee development to make sure that workers feel safe, understand their job, and promote success for the company overall.

You can listen to the full episode at, or anywhere you listen to your podcasts, just search “HCI Podcast”.

Read the full transcript below:

Welcome to the Human Capital innovations Podcast. It is a pleasure to have both of you. You're joining us from opposite sides of the country, sacramento and Atlanta. That's fantastic. I'm south of Salt Lake City in Utah, and today we're going to be talking about a variety of things around the shifting workplace. And I thought I would frame up the episode, generally speaking, around the shifting approach to employee learning and development, recognizing that there's a whole bunch of things that go into that learning and development environment. So this is what we'll be exploring and unpacking together today. As we get started, I just wanted to briefly introduce both Tammy and Christine. Tammy is Siemens Mobility, head of People and Organization. And Christine is Siemens Mobility's. HR director. Would either of you like to share a little bit more about yourselves, your background, your personal context before we dive on into the conversation? Maybe just a brief bio. I've been with Siemens for 18 years and most recently with Siemens Mobility for perhaps six of those 18 years. And what keeps me with Siemens and Semen's Mobility, quite frankly, is that it is an organization that's constantly changing, constantly evolving. There's always something new going on. The role lends itself well to getting to be involved in all of that. And so it's just an exciting place to be. And here I am, who is 18 years, but almost 19 years later still with Siemens. Yeah, and a little bit more about myself. Christine Lester. You know what, it's a privilege for me to work for Siemens. Some days are challenging, but it's very rewarding. We have over 1200 hourly workforce in manufacturing, and there's a lot of pride in the workshop, and it just makes me proud to be coming to work every day. Well, that's good. We all want to work for an organization where we're energized and excited and proud to show up and do the work that we do, recognizing also, like you said, Christine, things are hard too. It's not like everything's always roses and we have to deal with the challenging things as well. But that's part of the growth that we go through in our careers. I think it's wonderful that you both have found a home and are thriving there at Siemens and that you're creating an environment and a place where other people can have their careers and thrive as well. I think that's fantastic. I'm a consultant and a university professor. I've been at my home university that I consider my home base now for about 14 years. And yeah, it's amazing when you think about how time flies and how in this day and age where people tend to shift organizations and even careers rapidly. Many times it sounds like the three of us are kind of bucking that trend and we're sticking around in our organizations. So that says something about the organizations we work for. Yeah, I actually just had a team meeting that Christine was referring to as we were preparing, and most of the folks in my team meeting last week had the same kind of seniority or tenure with the organization that we did. We had a couple of new people, but overall we've had some great tenure within the organization. Yeah. Well, that's awesome. So as we talk, generally speaking, kind of this big umbrella about employee learning and development, which I believe is one of the main drivers for that longevity, for people's loyalty and commitment to their organization and vice versa, is when we have this really nice environment where people feel like they have the opportunity to learn and grow. Because neither of you would still be there if after two years you felt like you butted your head up against the ceiling of your potential. Right. You obviously would then be looking for something else. And lots of people find that they feel that way. They kind of get to where they're able to go and there's really no more place for them in their organization. And so they're going to move on. Sometimes it's because their boss isn't being proactive about helping them think about development opportunities. Sometimes it's opportunities for promotion and advancement, maybe a combination. There's a variety of things that go into it, obviously. But if we can, as organizations and as leaders show how we value our people through investing in their ongoing learning and development and growth opportunities, I think that will really go a long way. And I think that's probably as important as it's ever been, given the rapidly changing world that we're in. And we need people to constantly be reskilling and upskilling and preparing for a future that is incredibly ambiguous and unknown, right? Very much so. One of the things I know lots of organizations have been grappling with, I know you've been wrestling with this as well is everything around remote work working remotely as a company during the Pandemic is something many organizations were forced into. How have you addressed this at Siemens and how has the Pandemic changed some of the company's HR priorities, including remote work, hybrid work, and other related arrangements? So maybe I'll start and in general, I think you'll probably find throughout our podcast, I'm going to talk a little bit more, higher level with kind of what's happening globally and strategically. And then Christine is probably going to be able to add maybe some more local flavors to specifically sometimes what's happening within a site and that type of thing. I have been extremely impressed with the Siemens Managing Board from the beginning of the Pandemic. I think we've just got a managing board right now that recognizes we are in unprecedented times. And from the beginning of the Pandemic, very early on, they made a permanent commitment to remote working. And I think partly because, yes, the Pandemic was forcing us to get out of our comfort zone and do something differently. But I think they were already in the process of being schooled and coached on. The workforce has to change for the future because the skill sets that are required for the future with this heavy focus on digitalization, with the metaverse, with doing things differently and in different ways, it's not just go to factory a and make widget a or doing things so differently. But it was an innovative managing board and they were willing to make these kind of broad changes from the top and then work with the organization to cascade that throughout the organization. And so we committed to the two to three days remote working where possible very early in the Pandemic. And with that, we had to make sure we had tools in place that people knew how to work in this new way. And so at the same time, the managing board also made a commitment to the investment, to our infrastructure that supports remote working, to like a real estate footprint that is more about shared collaboration workspaces instead of dedicated closed offices. And to our learning platform, and that's a huge one to our learning platform that's encouraging people to learn more about digitalization, more about the new technologies that we need to deliver to our customers at an even faster pace than we've ever seen technological innovation occur than before. And so I'm not just trying to get points with the managing board. Some of them may or may not know my name. I don't know. I'm not trying to get points with them. But it really starts with our managing board and comes from there. And then they've made that same expectation. The leaders who report to them and those leaders who report to them have that same expectation, et cetera. And it's just been driven all the way through the organization. Yeah. So some of the things that we've had to help management and leadership transition to is instead of thinking about everybody had to be on site every single day. Making the couple of days in the office more meaningful. Meeting, making sure that you're scheduling your meetings on key topics when most people are going to be in the office. So is that a Tuesday and a Thursday type situation? Making sure that everybody has the right tools if they're not able to be on site, to be able to be productive in meetings, we zoom teams all the other tools that we've had to do. So transitioning from people being in their seats all day long on site to working remotely and making the time on site more meaningful has been a transition. But the leadership has done a really good job on that, thinking about engineers having to work with people in production if there's a problem that they need to be solved, and trying to figure out how to schedule that and be proactive about solutions. And we've also worked with leaders and managers on how to manage that remote population that it's not. I think a lot of leaders in the past really relied on. If I see them working, I'm pretty sure they're working. And now we've got to get them past that. To you really need to be looking at outcomes. You need to be looking at what's the result of collaboration as opposed to whether or not you actually see someone's face. Now, we do our whole performance management different because it needs to be about conversations. And so we've changed our whole performance management process to one, that's a growth mindset, that's a growth process, and it's growth talks is what we call it. And we're really asking managers to engage with employees on growth, but at the same time, they're really looking at aligning on expectations, making sure that what the employee needs to be successful is there and that barriers are removed. And so it's just a different approach, I think, than what we did in the past, because in the past you could just look and see if someone was struggling. In theory, you can't do that now. So managers have to be better communicators, they have to be able to hear without seeing necessarily. Yeah. And you've addressed a little bit of this, I think. But if we could double click on it and go a little deeper around, not only from the Siemens side, the organization side, of trying to understand how to shift to this evolving workplace kind of environment, but what are the employees wanting? What are they needing? And how has this changed your approach to hiring at Siemens over the last few years? So I will say that we're really hearing that employees like the flexibility. They love the feeling of trust and empowerment. And so they have been very receptive to that for the most part. They're very receptive to the different learning, the enhanced focus on learning that we're giving them. If we hear a negative on that, it would be they want the learning to be meaningful. And so they don't want to just learn for the sake of learning. They want it to be meaningful and something that they can utilize, whether in their personal life or in their career and their specific current responsibilities. But our employees generally are very receptive to this. There are some and that's what's nice about the flexibility of it, too. There are some who absolutely would prefer to stay in the office and work in the office all the time. And guess what? They can if that's where maybe they have interruptions or distractions at home. And so they actually do feel better working in the office. That's great if that's where they want to work. But there are some who need a little more flexibility. We just do ask that in general, on average, we're looking at two to three days because we do still think that the relationship building is still very important. And we do recognize that it's a challenge to hire new people into a two to three day remote. It's attractive as attracting people to the workplace, but helping them then learn what I'll call some of the hidden culture aspects and that type of thing, if they're not daily on site, can be difficult. And so managers are having to stretch to do that a little bit differently. And we're doing much more stressing assigning buddies and things like that than we probably did in the past. But Christine, your thoughts? Yeah, and I'd kind of go back to when we all learned about COVID and the changes that we had to go through. One thing that we learned and helped the management through is that when we were bringing people back to the office, many of them were afraid to come back to the office. So we had to work through that. And as Tammy mentioned, listening to the concerns of the workers, listening to how they felt and how we could help them, it was a transition. But we've been pretty successful at getting people back because now they understand how important the collaboration and the relationships that they build, the trust that they're building. So it was quite a transition probably a year ago when we started this, and I can see that it's been more successful. And the leader seemed to be thinking that it's been impactful now getting people back into the office, but again, still with some flexibility. Yeah, excellent. And I know in the preparation for the show today, I was looking at some of the stuff in the Sacramento facility. So Siemens Mobility Sacramento facility is one of the biggest of its kind in the world. Lots of hiring of manufacturing positions. How are you navigating that? Obviously that is complicated when we're talking about this whole world of maybe remote or hybrid work, how are you dealing with that in a manufacturing setting? And then let's finish off by talking a little bit more in detail about what you're doing and investing in your people around the learning and development strategies at Siemens. Yeah, to go back to your original question about the manufacturing, I mean, what we've done is we've partnered with many different people in the organization and outside of the organization we've built years ago. We understood that we had a pipeline of employees that didn't exist that we needed COVID did not help that challenge. But we did continue our hiring during the whole COVID situation, and obviously we're still dealing with it. But with that, we had to make sure that we had several new safety procedures in place for cleaning and making sure employees felt safe. And then once we got through all of that training, all that communication, and all of those procedures in place, then we focused on building our pipeline. We built relationships with many of the local colleges. We went out as far as 50 miles from our site. We actually started to go and visit their classes to let them know what Siemens could offer them, with no promise of any jobs. But we were able to get many people interested in Siemens. We provided tours on site of those classes so that they could see the facility, see how clean it was, see the work that was being done. And again, the pride of the you can't say enough about the pride that the actual workers have building these, because we would have them speak to the students to let them know, why do they love working at Siemens? So we built all of these partnerships. We have a very strong partnership with Lois RIAs District Community Colleges. They have welding programs. We just partnered with them very, very well. And we also have a nonprofit, Sacramento Valley Manufacturing Alliance, that one of our directors on site actually is part of that organization. And he's working with other companies who also are struggling to find workers and manufacturing to help build their pipeline. So we're all kind of helping each other. And I think the outreach to the various workforce development areas in your region, including colleges, universities, and other government facilities, I suspect all of that, I think, is a really good model for what organizations can and should be doing, as they're trying to attract great talent to come and do work. Like you said, if it's hard to find good people, you got to be proactive and going out to find them. You can't just expect them to somehow magically just show up at your door, ready to work. Right? Right. And one additional thing, once we actually got people in the door, then we invested in additional training. We have our own on site Weld Education Center that depending on the skill set of the Welder, they're in that training for an additional four weeks to twelve weeks, depending on their skill set. And, well, they'll be placed in the business for our assemblers. We have an additional five days of training for them to get up and running quickly. And before we created those training programs, we were losing a lot of people because they didn't understand the job, they didn't understand what was needed of them, felt that they didn't have good enough training. So we learned a lot over the last five years. I think their Welder certification program and working with the local universities was critical. And if anything, we know that our volume is going up. We have a very successful business unit out there, and so we need to constantly be prepared to scale up. And that's what the site has really focused on, how we partner with the universities, partner with the community to make it successful so that we can do so. We've done a great job. Yeah. Fantastic. And Christine, you were talking a little bit about as you're recruiting, you're leveraging learning and development opportunities as a recruitment tool, right. As you're going into universities and colleges, as you're onboarding people and helping them understand, this is how we're going to help you get certified. This is how we're going to help you do this XYZ thing so you can grow in your career. Maybe talk just a little bit more about that in our final few minutes. Yeah. To be honest with you, we're even actually starting at the high school level because we know the workforce that we're going to need in the future. We may not know all the jobs that we're going to need in the future, but we know that we're going to need a manufacturing workforce. So we are working to educate people who are still in school on what maybe to focus on. Some of them want to get into engineering, right? So we give them ideas on. Here are some things that you might want to focus on if you want to maybe start as a welder and advance into engineering, maybe start as an assembler. We've had some really success stories where people have walked in to Siemens very little skill set and now are very key workers in our engineering and other facilities departments throughout our facility. And it doesn't hurt that we manufacture trains. It doesn't. How cool is that? Earlier I said people make widgets. We don't make widgets. We make trains. Yeah. Fantastic. Well, Christine and Tammy, this has just been a really great conversation. A little bit of a look behind the curtain at Siemens and what you're doing there and the really cool stuff that's happening, especially over the last few years, as every organization has been grappling with these shifts and adjustments in the labor market and in the world of work. As we get close to wrapping up now, I just wanted to give each of you a chance to share with the audience how they can connect with you, find out more about Siemens, how they can find out more about your teams, and then give us the final word on the topic for today. Okay. Easiest way to connect is probably through LinkedIn. Both Christine and I are on LinkedIn. So. Tammy. T-A-M-I woolenick. W-O-L-O-W-N-I-K. I'm on LinkedIn. And then we also have a lot of strong social media presence. You can look up Siemens mobility. We have strong social media presence where you can learn more about the products we manufacture. The customers and the markets that we're in. And Christine Lester did do everything that Tammy said. I'm Christine. Christine, and we can help get connected with the right people. Wonderful. And if you were going to have one nugget takeaway for our conversation today, what would that be? I think management and leadership have to be engaged in wanting to be the employer of the future and being innovative, and once you get that, the rest is very doable. Thank you both. It's been a real pleasure. I encourage the audience to reach out, get connected, find out more about what Tammy and Christine can do and find out more about what they're doing there at Siemens. And as always, I hope everyone can stay healthy and safe, that you can find meaning and purpose at work each and every day, and I hope you all have a great week.



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