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BASF Canada agricultural employee mentoring a summer intern.Supplied

When Wayne Barton began his career at BASF Canada Inc. over 25 years ago, he was focused on finding innovative solutions for farmers’ problems. But on his path to becoming a research and commercial development manager in the company’s agricultural solutions group, Barton says his horizons broadened.

“My team runs several small farms across the country to develop new technologies,” says Barton, “and we hire about 15 summer interns a year. I started to realize we were learning a lot and doing more, precisely because of the people joining the team, starting with those interns. It’s pretty rewarding to see them develop, learn and eventually start doing things you haven’t been able to do or wouldn’t have thought of doing.”

Nor is he alone among BASF managers in thinking that way, Barton adds. “We now have a whole team of people, young hires who have helped the organization become more people-focused. We realized we were getting a lot more than work from young people and developing young talent just became part of us – it’s a development culture now, right across BASF.”

Some of the summer interns eventually become part of BASF’s two-year professional development program (PDP) for recent graduates, which takes on two to four newcomers every year. There are two streams, technical and commercial, both of which rotate them through numerous work assignments in two distinct 12-month postings.

After the program is completed, the PDP graduates are placed in a permanent role in the organization to kick off the next step of their careers. It aims to prepare young talent for future leadership roles while familiarizing them with the company’s wide-ranging operations.

It certainly does that, says Calgary-based technical services specialist Rongrong Xiang, now in her second year as a regular BASF employee after two years as a PDP.

“I have licence plates from all three Prairie provinces,” she says, laughing. “I was living in Alberta when I was accepted and they sent me to Winkler, Manitoba, first and then Saskatoon the second year. Looking back, it was really good experience, because I got to see and learn a lot first-hand, like launching a product and having customer-facing moments.

“The PDP was amazing,” adds Xiang, whose master’s degree is in plant science. “It was so good to learn how the business works. I think it’s pretty unique for BASF to have a role like that for fresh graduates.”

As for a workplace culture dedicated to development, that, too, was part of the experience for Xiang. “Managers here don’t care just about your work, but about your whole well-being,” she says. “It’s as much a mentorship as a development program. When I was on the technical side, my manager reached out to ask if I was interested in learning more about other functions, like the customer solutions team, and offered to connect me with their manager.”

Becoming a company focused on talent development is one part of a virtuous circle, Barton believes. “The more young people we hire, the more their values influence ours,” he says. “We have a growing diversity and inclusion culture and a focus on employee wellness. We are talking a lot internally about Indigenous reconciliation and what our role should be as a large Canadian employer.”

It’s an evolving alignment of values that benefits everyone, says Barton. “We see it pay off almost immediately. People are more apt to join, they’re more engaged, they provide more value, and we do better as an organization and can continue to build a better company culture that welcomes them.”

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Advertising feature produced by Canada’s Top 100 Employers, a division of Mediacorp Canada Inc. The Globe and Mail’s editorial department was not involved.

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