Don’t stop learning!

Michael P. Duncan | TLT President's Report February 2020

And as Fleetwood Mac advised, don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.

Employees must understand what their companies require, today and tomorrow, for both to succeed. 

Technology allows us to do more in our jobs than ever before. Personal computers, email, the Internet and smart phones have made communicating faster (almost instantaneous), more efficient, more organized and sometimes overwhelming. 

Add to this the various software applications available today that we use in our jobs: business management (ERP: Enterprise Resource Planning), chemical processes, chemical plant data acquisition systems, chemical process simulators, preventive maintenance, quality control, statistical quality control, inventory control, shipping, electronic lab notebooks, sales and marketing (customer-relationship management [CRM] service, presentations, customer surveys), websites, regulatory, health and safety, labeling programs, employee training, expense reports, firewalls, etc.

The tools above allow us to better: communicate with each other, organize our companies and ourselves, manage and train our people, manufacture our products, secure our intellectual property, understand our costs, improve our existing products, develop new products, understand risks and liability, customize solutions for customers, improve efficiency across our organizations, understand our employees and customers, find new customers, work with fewer people, etc.

As employees, it is important to understand what our companies require from us today and tomorrow for both of us to be successful. Of course, companies want employees who are: team players, use sound judgment, communicate well, have a good work ethic and have good business etiquette; but they also want and need their employees to develop. 

One of my favorite articles as a manager is titled Six Abilities Every Employee Needs to be Successful.* The article lists these traits:

Technology enthusiasm.

All six of these traits are key to the development of an employee.

I stress continuously with my staff (whether this is their first job, a recent career move or a 40-plus-year veteran in the field) that they must continue to educate and develop themselves in order to stay relevant and contribute to our organization. I suggest a number of ways for them to accomplish this: talk to colleagues about their projects (especially a challenging one); become an active participant in the company (safety team, continuous improvement team, process improvement team, customer visits); attend pertinent conferences and seminars; attend outside training courses; watch Webinars; attend STLE local section meetings, STLE annual meetings, supplier meetings; read journal articles and patents; review information from a similar industry for applicability; etc.

I realized quickly in my own career that a college education was simply a foot in the door. After college, besides taking STLE’s Basic Lubricants, Synthetic Lubricants and Grease courses, I attended many single and multiple-day training seminars on topics like: supervising, organizing, health and safety, SDS authoring, understanding global regulations, statistics, Microsoft Office applications, environmental, manufacturing, problem solving and design of experiments. I’ve also attended numerous STLE annual meetings, STLE local section meetings and other industry conferences. My advice—don’t stop learning!

No matter where you are in your career, staying relevant professionally is a big part of your success. Staying current in your field requires a strong mix of hard skills, such as computer programs and the technical know-how needed to do your job, and soft skills such as general industry knowledge and communication savvy.**

*Available here.
**Available here.
Mike Duncan is executive vice president of technology at Daubert Chemical Co. in Chicago. You can reach him at