logo image

TD Magazine Article

Unleashing Lifelong Learning

For a true assessment of employee potential, it’s the durable, or soft, skills that truly count.

By and

Fri Apr 01 2022

Unleashing Lifelong Learning

For a true assessment of employee potential, it's the durable, or soft, skills that truly count.

You may not have realized it, but you have likely been a beneficiary of Siemens USA's outputs—whether it's a car designed with Siemens software or a product powered by the company's technology solutions. With a workforce of more than 40,000, the company's focus is not only on innovation, technology, and infrastructure but also on cultivating talent both inside and outside Siemens USA.


We spoke with CEO Barbara Humpton at the company's headquarters in Washington, DC.

Siemens invests $37 million in workforce training every year. What do you believe are the benefits of devoting such a significant budget to training and development?

Some employers may be reducing training budgets, but at Siemens we're certainly not. We're a technology company, and technology really is only as powerful as the people behind it. So, we invest in people because it's people who make this business happen.

One of the cornerstones of our overall culture is empowerment, and hand in hand with that is a growth mindset. If you can find employees who have curiosity and initiative and you can give them the tools they need, then we can unleash lifelong learning.

What we've been investing in a lot inside Siemens is the set of tools that are going to help people take control of their own careers. Think about libraries full of learning courses, webinars, articles, and TED Talks so that people can say, "I want to learn about X," and then have the resources for them to do so. I don't care whether it's technical skills or the durable skills that they're going to take from job to job. Building that skill set inside the company and empowering people to do that themselves is at the heart of what we're doing. I'm really emphasizing lifelong learning because careers are lasting much longer than ever before.


Separately, the Siemens Foundation, for which you serve as chair, has invested more than $130 million in workforce development initiatives in the US. In what ways are the foundation's efforts contributing to talent development outside the company?

We're engaged with the community through the Siemens Foundation and looking for new avenues for finding talent. Premise number 1 is that the pathway to a well-paying job doesn't have to be a four-year college degree. So, tapping into Siemens's know-how, which is really grounded in the German apprenticeship model, we've had the Siemens Foundation engaged with organizations that are doing things like high school apprentice programs.

And Siemens has been investing in relationships with community colleges, because that's where critical STEM technical skills are being taught. I'm thinking about that combination of the real and the digital world: manufacturing with automation; building management with the control systems that are required today; or in the field of healthcare, the technicians who are reading imagery.

Those are all jobs where there's a huge demand for skills. Our customers can't get all the people they need to do these things. So, Siemens and the Siemens Foundation are investing in, say, credentialing programs that would help others build nonproprietary curricula and help prepare people right out of college, right out of high school, or maybe even a mom who's transitioning back into the workforce or a veteran who's coming back from deployment. All those are opportunities that we see for building skills.

What are the challenges and opportunities that you see for the manufacturing industry in the next five to 10 years?


Over these last few years, in my role as Siemens US CEO, I have had the privilege of being part of the national dialogue about workforce development. Pre-COVID, when unemployment was at an all-time low and job growth was tremendous, there were people coming to the table saying, "How are we going to satisfy the need?" Now look at where we are.

The question is not so much about a lack of people—it's a matter of matching them up. It's an opportunity gap in so many ways.

We're aware that there are more than 800,000 job openings in manufacturing. There's been this trend over the last few decades that a lot of people—parents in particular—think that manufacturing jobs are "dark, dirty, and dangerous." That's what \[National Association of Manufacturers CEO\] Jay Timmons always says others think about manufacturing. And when you walk into modern manufacturing locations, what you discover is that it's anything but that—they're high-tech spaces.

One of the big worries about manufacturing over the last five decades has been the flight of jobs overseas because people are looking for low-cost manufacturing hubs. Technology is going to transform jobs. We're taking the cost of labor out as the business case for where manufacturing ought to be, because people can do more with the technology. Now you can manufacture close to the point of need, and manufacturing is being redistributed around the world. So, manufacturing is being transformed, and there are going to be so many exciting jobs.

One of the ways Siemens is filling job openings is through its "Where the Jobs Are" recruitment initiative. What are the components of that, and what outcomes have you seen?

The business is large and growing. At any given time, we have about 3,000 openings. Where the Jobs Are is a communication campaign so that people know what we are looking for. Our team has put together resource materials for those who are searching for jobs, informing people about the great opportunities that exist within Siemens. This is Siemens raising our hands and saying, "We're here, we have fantastic jobs, and here's how you get to us."

That goes hand and glove with another big focus of ours, which is searching for talent in places that we haven't typically been before. This has really driven our purpose of driving more diversity, equity, and inclusion. We go to communities that may not have ever heard of us before and then get them interested in us.

These days, we could be hiring for someone to be on the manufacturing floor. But we're also hiring cybersecurity experts, data analysts, software developers. A lot of people just may not know that we have open jobs that will appeal to their talents.

For example, I heard from a high school administrator who said, "I really have been looking for a career change, and I wonder where I would fit." Well, head over to our talent organization because their job now is to be able to see past the obvious experiences to what are the transferable skills that a person like this brings to the table. And then they determine whether the person has enough to get started with us—we can teach them the rest.

We'll elevate what they know in their technical field and take advantage of the experience they've gotten. Believe me, someone who has been an administrator in a high school surely has leadership skills that are going to come in handy.

What role do you play in talent development in terms of leading, mentoring, and teaching?

Whether you're managing a tiny team or you're managing a company, the core leadership behaviors are the same. The most important relationship in any organization is an employee's relationship with their immediate manager. I want to be a great manager to the people who report directly to me.

I'm also a big proponent of the idea that networks beat hierarchies. I know a lot of companies get trapped in saying, "What does the org chart say about who I should interact with?" What we're doing is building networks of people who are working on similar things—you may be in multiple networks because of where you are, what you're working on, and who your customers are. That networking effect is way more powerful than org charts.

Learning from each other is key. I say this very purposely, because I am mentoring others—I offer myself up—and then I'm also being mentored by people in my organization. Right now, I'm spending time learning about the future of buildings because everything is changing right now, and we have a big business affiliated with buildings.

Who am I going to learn from? I ask the team who is responsible for the digital disruption of buildings to meet with me once a month, to take me along for that journey of understanding. They are teaching me. In return, I try to make myself available to others if they're curious about things I know.

I've mentored individuals in the company. What it's yielded is people who are doing amazing things now—maybe moving to a new role or doing their current role in a new way. It's led to real growth for them and a huge satisfaction for me.

One of your passions is what you call a work-life blend. How does that differ from work-life balance, and how does the concept help you be a better leader?

When my kids were tweens and teenagers, I was thinking: Should I stay in the workforce or should I step out for a little bit? At the time, new work tools, like a Blackberry, allowed me to get text messages and send emails to other people to keep up with work. Suddenly, I discovered that I could be present and take care of the things that need to be taken care of when they needed to be taken care of. It wasn't a balance at all. In fact, balance to me always implied some kind of perfection, which is unattainable.

What worked better for me is a work-life blend, and my analogy in my own head about it was: Does a farmer ever go home—is a farmer ever off the job? No. A farmer finds time to do the things that need to be done when they need to be done. This is one reason I would say during COVID I've really embraced digital. I'm hearing from a lot of people across our organization and my peers in business who are saying, "I must get people back to office; otherwise, we won't have a culture and we won't get projects done."

My feeling is this: Why don't we find a way to use the tools available to us now to give people the kind of flexibility they've embraced during COVID—because I know I have embraced that in my own life, and it's a game changer. It takes a lot of the pressure off people. A lot of focus is on women, but I know men feel it too. I'm here at the office; I'm not there. Or I am at home and there is something hot happening in the office. What do I do? Blend it is what I say.

You've Reached ATD Member-only Content

Become an ATD member to continue

Already a member?Sign In



April 2022 - TD Magazine

View Articles

Copyright © 2024 ATD

ASTD changed its name to ATD to meet the growing needs of a dynamic, global profession.

Terms of UsePrivacy NoticeCookie Policy