Training opens your eyes

  Lucia Cai Click to enlarge

Lucia Cai finally understood her 17-year old son’s complaints about having too much school work, after returning home from a week’s training by Solvay's dedicated learning department. 

Learning can be hard and tiring she had realized; her son’s weariness was probably real, and perhaps she and her husband shouldn’t push their son too hard. “After the training I really understood my son,” remembers Lucia, a deputy general manager for Solvay Biochemicals (Taixing) in China.

However, Lucia is a confirmed fan of the trainings we offer employees around the world to enrich their careers — even though she says that the sustained effort needed over a week made her training course tougher than her day-to-day job. “I loved the training. It helped me a lot,” she says.

Her work on new projects, since joining us in January 2011, involves obtaining official approvals. This means that she has plenty of dealings with many different officials. She says that, during a difficult stage of obtaining permits on one project, she applied the negotiating skills that she had learned recently on the training course: “I had got training for it, I tried it, and it worked!

Skills like this are typical of what’s taught on the Solvay International Management Seminar (IMS) course that Lucia took, which was held in Brussels, Belgium. She has also had other training – online courses at home and in her office, including mandatory training in legal compliance, and off-site courses with outside trainers. All of which she deems “excellent.”

Ambitious targets

The learning department attempts to get the same response from all our colleagues who attend our various courses. 

We recognize that our sustained success depends on the development of our employees and that good training helps people do their jobs better. As such, this department is part of our commitment to provide five days of learning a year for everyone in the company by 2020. In 2012, we had more than 3,600 training sessions worldwide, that’s an average of 33.9 hours/employee/year and more than 1 million hours of training worldwide!

Solvay's learning department operates through two divisions: 

  • Leadership & Management – aimed at future business leaders and managers; runs programs such as the IMS, an Adaptive Leadership program , and a strategy design course for senior managers  
  • Academies – offers training to boost growth and development in the job as well as technical skills specific to the functions of commercial, marketing, procurement, finance and industrial, among others

Widened horizons

  Matthieu Daudin Click to enlarge
The training is not all about new skills for day-to-day work. Matthieu Daudin, a global marketing manager for Solvay Novecare Industrial & Intermediates in New Jersey, USA, spends a lot of time on market analyses for a wide range of products and markets, including upstream and downstream customers in the lubricants, construction and energy sectors. 

Although he’s already experienced in the marketing approaches covered by an Innovation Marketing course he attended, there was still room for learning. 

Through the course, it was much clearer to me what people are doing at different points of the innovation process,” he says. “It was a great way to see the link between marketing and R&D, and how we launch a product together… how we create something that customers want.

The experience has helped in particular on a couple of current technical projects, where he works hand in hand with the Research & Innovation director and his technical team.

As a non-chemist thrown into a world full of technical terms, acronyms, and so on, he says that he struggled a little bit after joining Solvay, but learned fast, typically by meeting and watching others. “The first year of my job was very, very useful. I learned a lot,” he recalls. “What you have to do is ask a lot of questions. When you are a junior like I was when I joined the group, you are not ashamed to ask these questions.”

Talking needed

The mix of disciplines and operations represented on his course “was the best thing,” for Matthieu. Being thrown together with fellow trainees from a mix of technical and other backgrounds also gave him a better grip on the company as a whole and our innovations. 

For the 10 or so people who signed up for the course, “the discussions and analyses helped us learn how to communicate better,” he says. “It was very good to see how people interacted with each other and how people used, all together, the same tool in the same process. This is very important because everyone working on the same project needs to communicate.” Lucia also found it stimulating being thrown together with a wide mix of people. “That really gave me a chance to understand the company better,” she says. “It let me know what the company thinking is.”


Lucia Cai with other “trainees” at another training course 

There were about 100 people on her course, split into 10-strong groups working on projects for presentation to the other groups and to our Executive Committee (COMEX).

“All the projects were real situations within Solvay. One group had to work out how to deal with the culture in a company that had been acquired recently, focusing on topics such as staff development,” says Lucia. “We needed to ask real questions and it showed how teamwork could help Solvay achieve its aims.”

Looking for more

Matthieu’s course, took the form of two-day sessions separated by two weeks — with homework to apply the business tool that they learned in the first week.

The second week involved the trainees applying their new knowledge to their own, real projects. 

“We were involved in our own business case and our own project, which put into real life what we had done the first week. It was the most interesting part,” says Matthieu, pointing to the chance to get technical and other input. Final presentations were followed by discussion within the group.

“The high quality of the teaching ensured a high level discussion,” he says. “I think we had fun. It was a very good atmosphere. People had a very good mood.”

Convinced about the benefits of training, he’s looking forward to attending a week-long IMS course in March 2014.

With her love of learning and reading, Lucia shares, “I’m very keen on getting more training. I use what I learn all the time and even review my training notes every six months or so to reinforce the lessons.”

Understanding that people are busy in their day-to-day work, she wants to encourage others to take advantage of the trainings. “This is very beneficial for our futures,” she says. “It is proof that the company cares for its employees. But I have to admit, at the end of my IMS course my reactions was ‘Oh! It’s good that it’s ended!’”

  Learning also entails having fun Click to enlarge

Having moved several times since joining Solvay, including a couple of promotions, and switching from finance to general management, Lucia is particularly interested in topics such as leadership and emotional team management. And with Solvay's training target, she could be satisfied.

However, her enthusiasm is not necessarily good news for her son, who is unlikely to be allowed to wriggle out of studying hard after all.