Customer case: How ABB helps its employees learn languages



We had the great pleasure of welcoming our customer ABB up on stage at the Personal och Chef Stockholm 2019 event to discuss language learning.

Jessika Andersson Carotti from Acolad interviewed Head of Learning and Development Carl-Ove Kolmodin, who is the language learning buyer at ABB, and automation engineer Ghazal Amar, who is learning Swedish through Acolad’s language courses at ABB.

How is language learning organized at ABB Sweden?

ABB offers its international employees the opportunity to learn Swedish during business hours. The employees need tailored language learning to suit their individual needs and their specific circumstances at ABB. The Swedish course participants are given the opportunity to fill in their individual learning gaps. Acolad can adapt the Swedish courses to the needs of the language learners by offering small group learning or private lessons for individual learners.

ABB’s employees are highly qualified specialists with excellent study habits from their previous studies. Some of them are beginners in Swedish, but others may have reached a good level of Swedish in specific areas. Some can speak Swedish, but not write as well. Acolad offers flexible solutions. Depending on the learner’s needs, a Swedish course might focus on company-specific terminology, presentation skills or negotiation skills, for example.

Purchasing viewpoint, interview with Carl-Ove Kolmodin

Why does ABB offer language learning to its employees?

The reason ABB offers Swedish courses to its employees is that in Ludvika alone, the company’s employees represent 50 different nationalities. ABB hires specialists from all over the world to ensure it has the best high voltage experts possible, and individuals interested in working in the field frequently make their way to ABB.

Carl-Ove says that Swedish language skills are important for international employees from a work perspective, but perhaps even more so in terms of social integration. ABB as a workplace is already highly international, and at many locations English is the only common language. To integrate into the local society, however, language skills are crucial, and in reality local languages such as Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian are important.

Why should employers invest in the development of their employees’ language skills?

Carl-Ove: “When an employer invests in language learning, the biggest gains are in integration and in helping the employee to feel welcome at the company”.

The company sends a clear signal that it is interested in having the employee work there, wants him or her to stay and is willing to provide the best possible conditions to help make sure that happens. At companies smaller than ABB, English is not a natural common language, which means Swedish language skills are even more important in terms of keeping up and understanding. Carl-Ove has heard many comments about the word “fika”. “What is it? How does it work from a practical standpoint? What is involved if you have ‘fika’ in town?” “Fika” is a uniquely Swedish concept that is not entirely clear if you were not born here.

Jessika: “The advantage of the tailored language courses is that we find out specifically what the person wants to learn. We also offer cultural training services as well as basic and executive level Swedish courses for managers."

Carl-Ove says that the greatest challenge for ABB’s non-Swedish speaking employees who speak English well — both at work and in their personal lives — is that they do not feel like they get the chance to learn Swedish. They do not understand conversations during coffee breaks at work and have difficulty maneuvering society otherwise, for example when shopping. He says that work group integration and social integration are equally challenging.

What are the key benefits of centralized training?

ABB has offered language courses for quite some time, but not in a structured manner. The agreement with Acolad is a way to approach language learning holistically. The language learner’s development during a tailored Swedish course can be measured. The biggest change, however, is that Acolad now takes care of everything. All ABB has to do is send a link to potential language learners and refer to Acolad for all issues related to language learning.

Carl-Ove: “The biggest change for me personally is that I have only received one email since Acolad started handling everything, whereas I was previously inundated with emails. For me, the difference is tremendous. And fantastic.

Language learning is naturally not part of ABB’s core operations. It is not even something that Carl-Ove is meant to work with personally — the courses just need to be available. Now ABB can see statistics for how many employees are attending a language course and what the results are. At present just under 100 people are taking a Swedish course, mostly in Ludvika where ABB has just over 2,500 employees. A few employees are taking a language course at the Corporate Research Center in Västerås.

What has changed in language learning since cooperation was initiated?

Carl-Ove says that the most positive aspect of language courses from Acolad is that requests for language learning and his extra coordination duties just suddenly disappeared from his workload. He no longer needs to get involved in issues he should not spend too much time on. He happily reports that the Swedish courses that were beginning to be problematic for him turned into a non-issue again.

My contact person at Acolad and I speak on occasion, and the language courses are under control. This is a great development, and I am extremely satisfied.

Student perspective: interview with Ghazal Amar, automation engineer at ABB

Hear what Ghazal has to say about learning languages. Go to 20:30 in the video to see her interview.

Why is language learning important to you?

Ghazal Amar came to Sweden 2.5 years ago from the U.S. She got her master’s degree here and started working as an automation engineer at ABB a year ago. Ghazal’s family originally moved from Pakistan to the U.S., and she says it is very important to her to become part of any country she moves to, especially now since she plans to stay in Sweden for a while. She wants to integrate into society and understand the culture. She says that language is a big part of that endeavor.

Most people in Sweden speak English, and it is possible to “survive” without learning Swedish, but Ghazal wants in-depth understanding of everything going on around her at work, including during coffee breaks and discussions at lunch. Learning Swedish is an important aspect of getting to know colleagues and feeling like you are an integrated part of the team, both at work and away from work. Ghazal also has Swedish customers whose documentation is in Swedish and where she has to communicate and send emails in Swedish.

Ghazal says that the most difficult part of not being able to speak Swedish was the feeling of constantly missing out on part of the conversations going on around her. Even if someone could summarize what was said for her afterwards, it was easy to misunderstand the person anyway, and Ghazal wanted to be mentally present at all times and be able to understand on her own what others were saying.

Feelings about the company-organized language course

When Ghazal began learning Swedish at SFI, the course was held in the evenings, so she appreciates the convenience of being able to learn Swedish during business hours. She says you tend to be mentally drained after a day of work, and switching over to a language course can be tough. Now she is instead taking private lessons that she schedules herself at suitable times, often in conjunction with lunch.

Tailored language learning is important since Ghazal already has basic Swedish skills in place. Now she can concentrate on her own specific learning needs. She and her teacher designed a curriculum to follow, but Ghazal can also ask for other topics to be addressed beyond that. Since she can bring up areas she does not understand and have them explained, this type of personalized learning has been extremely beneficial.

Summary of the interviews

From the buyer’s perspective:

  • The company signals commitment and interest in the employee
  • Workplace integration, improved intercultural communication
  • Social integration
  • Better chance that the employee will choose to stay at the workplace
  • Reduced workload for the buyer, Acolad takes care of everything (including questions)
  • Centralized purchasing saves time for the buyer/HR and language learners; everyone knows who to contact
  • The holistic approach provides the same learning opportunities for participants regardless of their location
  • Measurable development; statistics on the participants and their results
  • Holistic approach ensures the language course process is manageable
  • Interaction with ABB’s customers takes place in the local language

From the language learner’s perspective:

  • Workplace integration, easier to become part of the team
  • Can participate in informal discussions at lunch and during coffee breaks
  • Integration into society, the country and culture — away from work as well
  • Feeling of being welcome and taken care of by the company
  • Can interact with customers in the local language
  • Language learning offered during business hours and scheduled when most suitable for the employee is both practical and convenient
  • Tailored courses cover areas that are precisely what the individual language learner needs
  • Possibility to address language-related problems as they arise

"Language learning is important from a work perspective, but it is every bit as important on a personal level". Carl-Ove Kolmodin 

From where Acolad stands, receiving the positive feedback on our language courses — from management/buyer and language learner perspectives — was both informative and gratifying. Both of our guests agreed that language learning is important from a work perspective, and that it is every bit as important on a personal level. Speaking the local language in a new country is crucial for social integration and to be able to reach your full potential at both work and in society. Swedish companies need to attract expertise from other countries, and then encourage these individuals to stay as long as possible once they arrive.

Would you like to learn more about what companies have to gain by offering their international employees language learning? The blog addresses the challenges many companies face when attempting to recruit the best possible human resources and talent within their specific fields. 

About ABB

ABB is a world leader in power engineering and automation technology. The company’s solutions help energy companies and industrial companies improve performance and minimize their environmental impact. The ABB Group’s companies operate in around 100 countries and employ approximately 147,000 people. ABB in Sweden has approximately 7,800 employees at around 30 locations. Västerås with around 3,700 employees and Ludvika with around 2,700 employees are the largest places of business. Read more about ABB.

About Acolad

Acolad has extensive experience in offering language training solutions. We started off over 40 years ago in the most traditional of ways with face-to-face training. Along the winding road we have experienced every single step in the evolution of language training. We have seen it evolve and transform into e-learning, webinars, interactive learning and digital learning, videos and online lessons. Eventually the path led us all the way to the advanced and individually selected hybrid learning that we offer our customers today. Over the years, Acolad has successfully managed to adapt to changing customer needs, but we have always been true to our principle that language training is not only a matter of teaching the language, it is also a matter of connecting the language to a skill or a new way working in another language. It is only at that point that the training becomes a truly valuable component in the business environment.

Acolad offers a full range of language training solutions. If you are facing multicultural and multilingual challenges, we would be very interested in hearing all about them. It might turn out that we have just the right solution for your needs!

Find out more about our tailored learning solutions!

Are you interested in discussing language learning or Swedish courses for your company? Do you have anything you want to ask about? Contact us, and our experts will share their suggestions.