Article: 3M's Kevin McGuigan on the importance of science in the workplace


3M's Kevin McGuigan on the importance of science in the workplace

Appreciation for science goes beyond understanding its importance in our daily life—it can translate into important critical thinking and collaboration skills at an organizational level, says Kevin McGuigan, Managing Director, 3M South East Asia Region and Country Leader, Singapore.
3M's Kevin McGuigan on the importance of science in the workplace

How important do you think science is in your life? In 2020, your answer to that question was probably “a lot more important than we thought it was in 2019”. That was one major finding of 3M's annual State of Science Index, which measures global appreciation for science and trust in scientists. Both have gone up significantly this year, a result of the pandemic spotlighting the otherwise seldom-recognized work that scientists do.

Appreciation and trust for science and scientists goes beyond recognizing the importance of science in public health, however. Scientific thinking—the knowledge-seeking, logical reasoning, and critical thinking processes applied in the field of science—is a skill that could be of tremendous benefit to any organization. But it is seldom prioritized outside the STEM industries, and in fact 3M's index shows that an average of 28 percent of people globally are still skeptical about science.

To clarify the role that science and scientific thinking can play in advancing an organization's objectives, People Matters asked Kevin McGuigan, Managing Director, 3M South East Asia Region and Country Leader, Singapore, why and how science is applicable outside STEM. Here's what he said.

How might it benefit an organization, even one not in the STEM industries, to have scientific skills or knowledge widely held in its workforce?

Beyond the world of STEM, science is important in all aspects of life. From an organizational standpoint, science helps in three key ways.

Firstly, science helps employees become critical thinkers even if they are not dabbling in science on a day-to-day basis. It helps them develop problem solving skills and they in turn can become more effective and efficient at their work. This can also lead to high quality product or service creation.

Secondly, good science requires good collaboration. Having a better perception and understanding of science encourages more fruitful inter-division collaboration. When non-science departments like marketing can understand scientific principles, this helps them better work with scientists and engineers to design, develop and market good products and technologies.

Thirdly, science improves Diversity & Inclusion. New and diverse perspectives are always critical when it comes to running an organization. From business to Human Resources to product creation, we believe having multiple viewpoints is a competitive advantage.

These are skills easily transferrable and very applicable across many industries and organizations, beyond those in STEM. Critical thinking and the spirit of collaboration help organizations be more productive, develop better products and services.

What are some ways organizations can develop these skills and knowledge among existing employees? Where would be a good place to begin?

At the moment, there’s a lot of talk and support for upskilling employees, and I think organizations who are starting in this area can take advantage of that.

Today’s employees are looking at three sets of skills—hard, soft, and transferrable.

Firstly, we have hard skills. These are technical skills that employees need in their respective job functions and responsibilities. Of course, as the world goes increasingly digital, tech skills are in demand.

Secondly, we have soft skills. These are personal skills that are also critical to how employees work and collaborate.

Last but not least, we have transferrable skills, which are becoming increasingly important as our economies are undergoing rapid digitalization. In these unprecedented times and where remote working has become the new normal, employees today need to be adaptable, good leaders, problem-solvers and communicate well.

Could you share an example of what you're doing in 3M to cultivate these skills?

I think a vital way in which organizations can develop these skills and knowledge is by providing courses and training for their employees, and this is what 3M has done.

We have a learning platform is called ‘Develop U’, which features over 10,000 learning resources in more than 15 languages that cut across diverse areas including, hard skills like Data Science and Digitalization, as well as soft, transferrable skills such as global collaboration skills, diversity & inclusion, and wellbeing.

We are also committed to an inclusive workplace where everyone feels valued and empowered to contribute, and we encourage other organizations—even those not in STEM—to do the same.

What else can organizations do—in terms of partnering with educational institutions, or perhaps simply changing their hiring processes and candidate assessments—to get these skills and knowledge in their talent pipeline?

Collaborations with educational institutions are all the more important when it comes to building a strong talent pipeline, especially for science-based organizations such as 3M. We want to help develop the next generation of scientists and thinkers.

It is for this reason that we partner with various educational institutions across the world.

In Singapore, we partner with institutions and organizations to address equity in STEM and provide high-quality education opportunities. These include the Ministry of Education, the Science Centre Board and the School of Science and Technology, Singapore. Through these partnerships, we have encouraged and empowered over 600 employees to contribute their time and expertise to engage more than 10,000 students and we look forward to doing even more.

This year, as part of our commitment to helping teachers and students adapt to a new way of learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we created a Science at Home video series, providing teachers and parents with simple science experiments that can be conducted at home by young students. Demonstrated by 3M scientists and engineers, these science experiments use common household items and are designed to reinforce core scientific principles.

We also build a highly qualified pool of talent through our structured hiring process and candidate assessments. We leverage our strong Internship program, which gives hands-on training to potential full-time 3M employees. For vacancies requiring years of relevant work experience, we conduct thorough talent mapping to identify the available resources in the market, meeting our requirements. Our interview process also includes skill-set technical tests and case study presentations, to ensure that we are bringing in highly suitable individuals.

For organizations not in STEM, what might be the main challenges in developing scientific thinking skills among the workforce? To what extent would the effort involved in overcoming those challenges be "worthwhile"?

I think developing strong scientific skills in the workforce starts with high-quality STEM education from a young age.

Unfortunately, as we have seen from the 3M State of Science Index 2020, many students in Singapore have been discouraged while in school (not including university), and this is only intensifying over time. The survey found that 23 percent of Gen Z (18+) and Millennials said they were discouraged, significantly higher than the 13 percent of Gen X/Boomers. Globally, the figures are even higher.

Diving deeper, we’ve identified several challenges facing STEM education in our study. When we looked at barriers to STEM, we found that misperception was at the top. As many as 40 percent of Singaporeans who have been discouraged from pursuing science in school cited “being told I am not smart enough” as the top reason.

Adding on to that, we also found that 63 percent agreed that scientists were elitist, indicating that Singaporeans view science as an out-of-reach subject.

To overcome these challenges, we need to gather corporations like us, as well as science advocates and individuals to come together to rethink STEM education, renew commitment to collaboration and respond to global challenges.

Our efforts in this area include holding the 3M State of Science Index and panel discussions annually—it allows us to come together and address ways in which we can improve science perceptions as a whole.

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Topics: Skilling, #Rewind2020

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