Future of Work Podcast, Episode 13.

Neil Milliken, global head of accessibility and inclusion at Atos, discusses how apprenticeship programs are helping Atos quickly bring in new and more diverse talent with the in-demand accessible technology skills they need.

This podcast is developed in partnership with Workology.com as part of PEAT’s Future of Work series, which works to start conversations around how emerging workplace technology trends are impacting people with disabilities.​

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Intro: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Workology podcast a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller Merrill founder of workology.com as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends tools and case studies for the business leader, HR, and recruiting professional who was tired of the status quo. Now here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.

Jessica: [00:00:25] Apprenticeships provide a real opportunity for employers to train and prepare our workers for our workplaces with transferable skills more quickly than other traditional methods. In Switzerland 70 percent of all high school students are in dual education pathways of their choosing that pair education and on the job training leading them into careers and higher education while earning an income. This podcast is sponsored by clear company apprenticeships provide opportunities for all kinds of people to learn skills and trades including people with disabilities. And this is also an ideal way to fill roles quickly when demand is high for specific skill sets. This podcast is part of the Future of Work series in partnership with PEAT. They are the partnership unemployment and accessible technology or PEAT. Today I’m joined by Neil Milliken. Neil is the global head of accessibility and inclusion and Atos where his role is to help make the world a better place by delivering better technology for their customers and staff. Embedding inclusive practices into the business as usual processes of the organization with thousands of employees and turnover numbering in the billions. Like many companies Atos has found that demand for both accessible products is growing but that it’s difficult to find candidates with the skills that they need. In a survey last year by the Partnership unemployment and accessible technology three out of five companies respondents similarly reported that it was difficult or very difficult for their organization to find job candidates with accessibility skills for Atos apprenticeships have proven to be a valuable technique to quickly recruit new and more diverse talent. Neil welcome to the Workology podcast.

Neil: [00:02:14] Thank you. I’m glad to be here.

Jessica: [00:02:16] Let’s talk a little bit about your background as the global head of accessibility for Atos.

Jessica: [00:02:22] How’d you get there.

Neil: [00:02:23] So a bit of a circuitous route. I’ve been working in assistive technology for around two decades now. Before that I worked in this sort of media and .com business. So I worked for an assistive technology company for about 10 years and then ended up going to work for Siemens to provide assistive tech for the BBC to support Siemens I.T. And I’ve been there for the last eight years since at Atos and I’ve grown to the competence within the organization over the years and we’re serving lots of multinational clients and government organizations etc to deliver accessibility.

Jessica: [00:03:08] Awesome. Well I want to talk a little bit about some basic terminology before we kind of dive into more about what you do. Can you talk to us about what an apprenticeship program is and then maybe the types of apprenticeship programs that you guys offer.

Neil: [00:03:24] Okay UK is quite unusual in that there is a very structured government program around apprentices there is in fact a levy or a tax on large organizations that that we will have to pay into. And so in the UK we pay into the Apprenticeship Levy. But what that does mean is that apprenticeships are actually subsidized by this levy. So the cost of delivering an apprenticeship to an individual is actually really low. Apprenticeships run across multiple different levels from sort of very much entry level to postgraduate degree level apprenticeships so there’s there’s various different levels of apprenticeships so there’s a mixture of on the job and academic learning and depending on what level the apprenticeship is the blend of the academic and on the job learning will differ.

Jessica: [00:04:19] Do you feel like the subsidy program that you’re mentioned in the UK makes apprenticeships more popular and attractive there than maybe in some of the other countries that you guys work in.

Neil: [00:04:30] It’s certainly given our organization much more focus. We’re very focused on an accessibility not just accessibility apprenticeships but apprenticeships in general and in the UK because we’re paying into the levy so we want to get out of it too. So in other countries where we might be running the graduate programs we’re also putting a big focus on apprenticeships in the UK. And we’re recruiting a lot through the apprenticeship program.

Jessica: [00:05:00] One thing I have found is that in the US anyway apprenticeships are really focused on Journeyman or people who are in the trades. How is that different maybe in some of the other countries or areas that you’ve worked in.

Neil: [00:05:16] So I think that things do vary from country to country certainly in Central Europe. There is a lot more structure to learning about a trade or a profession than there might be. In the UK for example as a builder in the UK you don’t have to take any qualifications to end up on a building site whereas in Germany there are strict rules and you have to learn stuff and get certifications and so on and so forth. I think that also our apprenticeship schemes running as they do across the multiple different levels from the basic apprenticeships to the degree and postgraduate degree apprenticeships obviously mean that there is a wider focus. If anything the levee in the UK has meant that businesses had a focus on the more senior level apprenticeships.

Jessica: [00:06:11] Give us an idea of scale here. How many apprenticeships have you had individuals go through and then maybe the number of countries.

Neil: [00:06:21] I can only really tell you that we’ve had many hundreds of apprentices in the UK. I’m not so hot on the numbers on in our other in our other parts of our organization but then I’ve run specific programs within within our own area focused on accessibility and employing people with disabilities and providing support for people with disabilities. And I’m actually looking to expand that and there is a big framework of around this in the UK where there’s actually an institute for apprenticeships so so it’s yeah that’s significant numbers and there is a focus on technology as well. I mean it’s not the only thing that is a focus on but there is a significant focus on technology.

Jessica: [00:07:08] Well let’s talk a little bit more about that because one of the things that you mentioned earlier was accessible technology. Can you walk us through what you mean when you say accessible technology.

Neil: [00:07:19] Yes sure. So essentially accessibility is the art of making stuff work for everyone including people with disabilities. And that might be whether people are blind or have cognitive disability like dyslexia. Like I have or have mobility issues. And of course people acquire disabilities as they’re getting older as well. Eyesight starts to go know mobility starts to get worse and you’re you’re working memory isn’t as good as it was before. So accessibility is a benefit for everyone but there are large numbers of people in the workforce and across the customer base in the consumer base that we we serve as an organization and government serve and governments are our clients too and that require this. It’s important for us to be able to meet that need. And of course there are also regulations saying that organizations need to meet their needs and not discriminate against people so what we’re trying to do is use technology and our knowledge of technology and apply our knowledge of technology to make sure that people aren’t left behind.

Jessica: [00:08:30] What’s the average length of your apprenticeship programs that you have there in the UK.

Neil: [00:08:35] They run between 18 months and two years. The ones that we’ve been doing.

[00:08:39] And are you focused just on specific apprenticeship programs that are just for people with disabilities or is it open to any and all.

Neil: [00:08:49] No no. So I mean the overall apprenticeship programs are absolutely open to anyone and everyone their accessibility once again they are open to everyone. But we would like to encourage people with disabilities to apply and want to make sure that we we’re designing stuff and designing our courses and are on the job learning to be accessible. So it’s not just a technical element it’s sort of the sort of sort of H.R. and adjustments and accommodations as well.

Jessica: [00:09:19] One of the things that you talked about that I thought was interesting in our prep call is that you referred to disabilities or disability as a megatrend. Can you talk a little bit more about that for us.

Neil: [00:09:30] Absolutely. So the average person born in 2007 in Japan has a 50 percent chance of living to the age of 107. So if we extrapolate that across other societies what you’re going to see is a super aged society. And as I mentioned age and disability are interrelated. That we’ve got these huge demographic trends happening where you know 86 percent of all people with disabilities weren’t born with a disability they’re acquiring them as they get older. And as the population is rapidly aging like you’re saying in Japan like you’re seeing in places like the UK and Germany where the populations are significantly older now than they were 15 20 years ago then you’re seeing an increased proportion of the populace having disability processing reduced numbers of young people who would normally have been supporting those older people with disabilities. So therefore we’re going to have to find ways of enabling people to remain active and economically active and playing their part in society and being self supporting.

Jessica: [00:10:44] Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller Merrill and you were listening to the Workology podcast. Today we are talking with Neil Milliken of Atos about global apprenticeship programs. This podcast is sponsored by Clear company and is part of our future work podcast series in partnership with the partnership unemployment and accessible technology or PEAT podcast support provided by clear company.

Break: [00:11:09] Clear company is a complete talent management platform used by human resources professionals to help them hire retain and engage players with ease visit clear company.com to sign up for a free personalized demo

Jessica: [00:11:22] With your apprenticeship programs. What types of skills and training are you providing those who are going through the program what does it look like.

Neil: [00:11:29] Okay well we have to provide a mixture of technical skills and also soft skills because I think we need to make sure that people have the right kind of skills to be able to deal with the modern workplace because we’re taking people straight to school leavers and whilst they may have basic literacy and numeracy and all of this kind of stuff. Having come out of high school they’re not necessarily going to have report writing skills or be able to present. So we’re. We’re making sure that by the time that our apprentices have finished they’re able to be confident enough to be able to hold their own in a meeting to be able to write a report and deliver a good executive summary to be able to stand up and deliver a presentation in front of people. And I think that got a great example of this. We had my first cohort of apprentices started about four and a half five years ago and they came straight out of school and four years later. Last summer we had a visit from a delegation from the government of Argentina and one of the guys that was an apprentice actually actually gave a presentation on the whole apprentice journey to the vice president of Argentina. So they’ve gone through the program from being a school leaver that didn’t have a great deal of confidence and didn’t know much about technology or how to address people to address in their official delegation. So I think those kind of skills are really important but we also need to recognize that that’s not that common. Not everyone’s going to get to present governments but they will be dealing with managers and customers and stakeholders and so on and so the soft skills are really absolutely as important a part of making sure that we’re doing the right thing for our customers. As teaching the technical aspects of the role I think soft skills are often overlooked and I love that you guys are taking the approach that you’re going to arm them with all the resources they need not just if they’re programmers right learning how to code but here’s how to talk to a manager here’s how to give a presentation here’s how to ask for a meeting. Here’s how to deal with these complex situations that aren’t normally covered at the university. I think it’s really important because what happens when we get people straight out of school or university. They’re not equipped with those skills and quite often they will come in full of enthusiasm and energy and they will do things in an experimental way or not do some of the things that are expected and and that results in them getting knocked back or and we don’t want to lose that the enthusiasm we’re employing people because we we believe in them. We’re investing in them. So we need to invest in making sure that they are successful not just technically but but successful in the organization and doing what’s needed for our customers.

Jessica: [00:14:48] So when somebody graduates from what are your apprenticeship programs what happens next with them. Where do they go.

Neil: [00:14:54] Well hopefully they stay in the organization. It’s you know it’s our aim that we retain the people that we’ve trained up for as long as possible. We recognize that they’re young and they’re not necessarily going to stay forever but we’ve we’ve got a fairly good retention rate and they get promoted. So there is a clear career path when you go on an apprenticeship that you you come into a certain level and so long as you you pass all of the relevant criteria and you complete your apprenticeship you will get promoted. So you then get to move into more demanding roles.

Jessica: [00:15:30] I like that there’s a clear path there is the complete the program they can be promoted they get some recognition some additional responsibilities and have a job within the organization.

Neil: [00:15:42] Yeah it’s really important that you don’t just let people complete a course and then they’re left hanging. Otherwise the first thing to do is lose all of the skills that you’ve just invested in.

Jessica: [00:15:54] Yeah and then they’ll be disengaged and unhappy and frustrated and even if they’re stuck around with you their performance is probably not gonna be as great because they just don’t know they’re so engaged and excited and they’re kind of lost a little bit of that along the way.

Neil: [00:16:09] Yeah absolutely. And we need to keep them engaged. It’s really key to making sure that we we are successful because if we don’t have engaged employees that they’re going to deliver the kind of customer service and and quality that we’re expecting.

Jessica: [00:16:30] What advice would you give for somebody who is looking to start an apprenticeship program like yours.

Neil: [00:16:36] To think about what it is that you need to teach people and think about that from as holistic away and as holistic away as possible so gather all of the people that your stakeholders and ask them what it is that they need from your employees. Talk to your other employees your team members about what are the things that they wish they knew or wish they’d been taught when they started. It’s a it’s a really important conversation to sort of have with the experience professionals what you know what would you tell your younger self what would be the things that you would want to learn because then you can actually start building that into the course materials into how you’re delivering those apprenticeships.

Jessica: [00:17:21] I love that too because it gets your leaders involved in the process and they’re more engaged because they’re able to make suggestions and interact but also maybe put themselves back in the shoes of of those new hires.

Neil: [00:17:36] Yeah absolutely. And we we need to do that because you know for example in the team that I grew 40 percent of the team have gone through the apprenticeship program. So there’s you know there’s a big age gap between the team that I built originally and the team that we’ve grown so we need them to be bought into the idea and to be supportive of each other.

Jessica: [00:18:00] What about for someone who’s scaling their program I know that you guys are looking to grow the apprenticeship programs that you have there. Well what advice would you give to someone who’s like I want to I want to do more of this.

Neil: [00:18:13] Well so definitely involve your H.R. professionals because they’re going to help your onboarding but you also need to find a good education partner. So we we we work we’re training partners to help us deliver the apprenticeships and organize and structure the courses and work with us to make sure that the the academic portions are all put in place but also all of the sort of student support and assessment process is done with proper due diligence.

Jessica: [00:18:48] It sounds pretty involved.

Neil: [00:18:51] But the thing is you can find a partner to do that. There are professional training providers that can help you run an apprenticeship program. So if you’re a small or medium sized business you’re not going to necessarily have a huge H.R. team but you can engage with one of these organizations that can they can help you. And there are certainly in the UK we have apprenticeship standards so they’re actually defined as to what the contents of what the basic contents of an apprenticeship on a particular topic will be. And then then you can work with the training providers and there will be suggested training providers available so you can go to them and reach out to them.

Jessica: [00:19:37] I like that. I feel like you’re you’re paying into the UK program but it does provide you a nice guide and some suggested best practices different kind of tools for your roadmap.

Neil: [00:19:49] Yeah absolutely. I mean there is a structure to it. I think it’s it’s been pretty successful with. We’re bringing in a lot of people into a form of learning that on the job learning that is I think working pretty successfully it’s giving a good return on investment. The for the money being spent.

Jessica: [00:20:11] Well thank you so much for for taking the time to talk with us today Neil. Where can people go to learn more about you and Atos and your inclusive apprenticeship programs.

Neil: [00:20:22] So one of the things that I’m really keen to do is take what we’ve done in the UK and look to scale this because I think that apprenticeships are a great way of bringing skills into an organization and it’s a great way of people also acquiring skills and getting into jobs that they may not otherwise have got. But I want to do this on a global scale so if there are people or organizations that are interested particularly in my case around inclusive design or accessibility they want to work together to try and take this to other countries. Please get in touch. Company’s Website is w w w.Atos.net at most on net. You can find me on Twitter I’m at Neil Milliken. N E I L M I l l I K E N and I’m fairly prolific on there I if you search for me and at least you’ll find some blogs around apprenticeship programs and there’s also some stuff about the accessibility apprenticeship on on the Institute for apprentices website.

Jessica: [00:21:33] Awesome more will link to all those things that you’ve mentioned in the transcript of the podcast so they’ll be able to get everything that they need and be able to connect with you and learn more about what you guys are doing that’s success that you’ve had with your interest tip programs and the accessibility apprenticeship.

Neil: [00:21:52] Fantastic. Thank you for the opportunity.

Exit: [00:21:57] The Workology podcast Future of Work series is supported by PEAT the partnership on employment and accessible technology. PEAT’s initiative is to foster collaboration and action around accessible technology in the workplace. PEAT funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. ODEP learned more about PEAT at peatworks. org. That’s PEAT w o r k s. org.

Jessica: [00:22:26] Neil and Atos’ work on inclusive apprenticeship programs are a great model to follow. I love the way they customize their programs focus on the technology and soft skill learning. I think we can all agree that these are things that are often missing from our new hires today. What a great way to provide training and resources for workers and using that opportunity to create a talent pipeline for positions throughout the organization. Neal also points out some facts that I think are important to restate. We are living longer than ever and a growing number of people are not born with disabilities but develop them over time and as they age. These are things to think about when you’re building your accessibility or hiring programs whether they’re accessibility for the workforce or for recruitment and interview and selection. Thank you for joining the Workology podcast. And thank you to our podcast sponsor Clear Company

Exit: [00:23:18] Production Services for the Workology podcast with Jessica Miller Merrill provided by total picture.com.