SkillingNow Podcast: Episode 5 - Transcript

Kathleen Elsig:

Welcome to this addition of GAN’s SkillingNow podcast “Does work-based learning really pay off?” This podcast is taking place now at the SHRM 2019 Annual Conference. We’re delighted to have four speakers with us for this exciting session. My name is Kathleen Elsig, I’m Acting Executive Director and Head of Strategic Partnerships and Development for GAN.

A big welcome to those who are listening. I’m going to introduce our speakers before we get started. We’re here today with Jillian Walsh, Employee Experience and Culture Consultant, Zurich North America. Jillian leads and facilitates management development programs focused on strengthening people management skills. She also co-directs the Zurich apprenticeship program, the first insurance program to be certified by the US Department of Labor (DOL).

We’re also joined by Marina Levin, Randstad Argentina’s Manager for Public Affairs and Sustainability. Marina has more than ten years’ experience in Marketing and Communications and today she accompanies Randstad Argentina’s transformation to create greater impact in communities where the company is active by identifying hidden talent pools.

We’re also accompanied by Paul Champion from the East Coast in the US. Paul is the President of TransZed Apprenticeships, based in Maryland and works across six states in the US. His work focuses on helping employers, workforce agencies, states, and the federal government expand the number of high-quality, modern apprenticeships across America. His key focus today is to work towards an American hiring policy that looks at every open job and asks the question, “would an apprentice be able to fill this role?”

Also joining us today is Linda Hogan, who has been consulting with Rolls Royce since 2011. She developed and leads the registered apprenticeship programs at the Rolls Royce site in Prince George, Virginia, and has more than 25 years’ experience in strategic learning and business performance improvement in manufacturing globally.

My first conversation is going to be with Jillian from Zurich Insurance. Jillian, most apprenticeship programs traditionally are in the trades. Why insurance, and can you tell us about the program?         

Jillian Walsh: Thank you Kathleen. We’re happy to be here on this podcast. Within the insurance industry, we have gone through some changes, in terms of our talent pools.

Our knowledge base is retiring. We have a senior, seasoned and tenured workforce and so, we need to take a look at ways we’re attracting talent. Also, diversifying our talent pipeline is a priority for us and growing our own talent for the needs of the business. Within the industry, we’re out there with other colleagues in the industry, looking at how we can promote and educate future talent on the value of the insurance industry and apprenticeship.

We know that there is some competition out there with other industries. To attract talent, we’re letting potential apprentices know about the global nature of the insurance business and the different avenues and pathways for success, within a commercial insurance company. What we’ve done at Zurich is in 2015, we were part of the White House Summit on Apprenticeships during President Obama’s administration and we committed at that point to 100 apprenticeships by 2020.

As a part of that promise, we looked at community colleges in our area and Harper College was a great partner because of their breadth and scope of their experience both with traditional and non-traditional apprenticeships. What we created was the opportunity for apprentices to come to our company and earn an Associate’s degree in Applied Sciences or Business Administration, with a focus on general insurance. In 2018, we introduced a cybersecurity apprenticeship program.

Two days a week, apprentices are taking classes. Three days a week, they are part of our team whether it’s in claims, support, premium audit. They go through two years in rotation and sub-rotations with us to get a greater understanding of the insurance industry.

Also, there’s a web of support created around the apprentices in terms of a manager, a mentor, apprentice alumni who are peer advisors and selected from the apprentices pool, which is currently being created. There is a coach from Harper’s College that helps them with studies, and myself and a colleague who run the day-to-day program. So we have a handful of people who are part of this web of support.       

KE: Jillian, thank you so much for that information. It’s fantastic because it’s a ground breaking program in the US and globally as well. In Switzerland, there are such apprenticeship programs, but in many other countries around the world, such apprenticeships in the insurance sector either don’t exist or are in the early stages, so this is a fantastic program and could be great learning for others around the world.   

JW: I would just add one thing here that we have been very fortunate to leverage the learnings of our home office in Switzerland and across Europe as well. Having that opportunity to learn that gold standard around apprenticeship helped feed into our own program and our own learnings to get the program up and running.

KE: Excellent. I also understand that in the broader Chicago area, there is a peer-to-peer learning network as well.

JW:  There is, and it’s called the Chicago Apprenticeship Network. We’re very fortunate that Accenture, AON and Zurich were founding partners of this consortium, that comes together on a quarterly basis, with other companies, other non-profits, other community colleges, to advocate for apprenticeship and help other companies and organizations leverage the learnings. There’s a quarterly meeting that’s hosted in the Chicago suburbs, and is an opportunity for apprentices, managers, and all kinds of apprenticeship revolutionaries come together to talk apprenticeship.

KE: Fantastic. Thank you. That could be an excellent example for other communities and cities to follow.

Speaking about cities, we’re going to talk about now, a program in another city, south of the US, in Argentina. We’re going to leverage the fact that we have Marina with us who is implementing a program in Buenos Aires, on the employability of the residents in one of the slum areas, Barrio 31 – one of the largest and most visible slums in Argentina, with a population of 40,000. The program that Marina is working on with Randstad is to understand the economic impact that these individuals can have for companies when they are integrated effectively into the workforce.

Marina Levin: Thank you Kathleen. At Randstad, we are in the HR services industry, specialized in staffing and recruiting, and therefore, we provide different services in diverse industries such as oil and gas, lithium, automotive, commerce, banking, agro-industry, etc. This means we constantly have to learn how to find these different talent pools wherever they are in our country.

And that means, getting to know different realities and socio-economic contexts. Our example is in Barrio 31, a slum in the heart of Buenos Aires that houses over 40,000 residents, as you mentioned before. They have gone through discrimination for many years by potential employers and society because of where they live, amongst other reasons.

That is why we decided to step into the Barrio, together with the employment office of the City of Buenos Aires, which is inside the Barrio. After a three-month pilot test, we decided to sign an agreement with the government to be able to train their residents on employability, which is transversal, and to help them through the whole hiring process and to give them a more equal opportunity to access the labor market. We’re doing other trainings on merchandising, customer sales and services.   


In a country that is undergoing various economic cycles of unemployment and growth, with inflation rates of up to 50%, and poverty up to 32%, this means that we did have to act upon social pressure. Hence, given a four-month period of time, we would interview over 150 candidates, of which we would hire 20. So they would be provided with not only skilling, but employment opportunities.

KE: Thank you Marina. That’s fantastic to hear other perspectives of what can happen at a community level, and a city level, and it really shows the importance of involving local communities. As Jillian showed earlier, with the community colleges in the Chicago area, actively investing and promoting, it enhances the employability and skills of local residents, while enriching business at the same time.

Paul, I’m going to ask you to jump in. You are working across different companies and six states. You work with employers and governments and have a broad overview of this topic. Can you tell us about the pressures that you see on companies that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will bring and how you see apprenticeship and work-based learning as a solution to alleviate some of these pressures and create opportunities? What is the role you see for the HR community?

Paul Champion: Thanks Kathleen. At TransZed apprenticeships, we have many functions. We are a deliverer, we offer apprenticeships directly in non-traditional routes such as healthcare, tech, etc.

We also work on intermediary support, such as technical support for employers, states and agencies to realize the impact that apprenticeship can have. I think the nation is going through a difficult phase, we are in a golden era where growth is huge, but it could be an issue, if we don’t have skills to capitalize. We believe the Fourth Industrial Revolution needs an apprenticeship revolution to answer that. Back in 2008-9, we had the global financial downturn. I personally think that there will be a global skills downturn if we don’t do something about it. 

There are plenty of high-quality people who want to be apprentices. What we have are employers and recruitment managers who are doing the same time and time again and getting the same result. What we are asking for through the apprenticeship revolution is that hiring managers do one thing - and that is to ask if an apprenticeship can fill the role of a job description.

And if the apprentice can do this job, then the apprentice becomes the face of the revolution, of recruitment policies, and how businesses get their skills and stay competitive, as the Fourth Industrial Revolution will bring in jobs that we don’t even know exist yet. If employers are struggling to fill in jobs of traditional roles, then what is this going to be like in the future? Apprenticeship and work-based learning are perfect models to answer this question.

So our battle cry is the apprenticeship revolution. We want people to think differently about hiring. If they need support on apprenticeship, there is a lot out there. One of the things we offer is a free support line, where you can text “apprentice” to 2100 and you’ll receive free help to answer on whether or not an apprentice can fill this role.

KE: Excellent, thank you very much Paul for that information and the insights you’ve given regarding the skills gap, within the acceleration of change in the world of work. The transformations we’re seeing shows that the skills gap will probably be greater. And your battle cry for the need of an apprenticeship revolution shows that we as representatives, employers, governments, and community service professionals need to get our head out of the sand and recognise that we are caught somewhere between the old and the new.

To get to the new, we’re going to have to run. If we don’t run quickly, we’ll find ourselves as businesses and especially as communities in big trouble, because the skills gap is probably only going to increase. Apprenticeships as mentioned by Jillian and Marina, create new pipelines, new linkages into communities and different parts of communities to access different types of talent that have been untapped until now.

I’m going to move now to Linda from Rolls Royce. Linda is ahead of the game in a lot of ways, and Rolls Royce in the US as well. Linda has an impressive story about bringing Rolls Royce into the apprenticeship revolution, before we even knew that there was a need for a revolution back in 2011. Linda, can you tell us about the program and also how you sparked the fire in Rolls Royce to do this, before it was even a topic?

Linda Hogan:

Thank you Kathleen. Rolls Royce started its first advanced manufacturing plant in Prince George, Virginia in 2010, making components for civil airspace engines. The workforce that we hired were computer and numerical control machinists. We were very fortunate the first year to hire people with 20-30 years’ experience, and then we could not find anybody.

We wondered if we had tapped out the market, if we needed to go to a broader region and where we can find these people. We had job propositions opened for more than seven months, and this of course impacted the business negatively. We suggested the idea of bringing in high school students, develop an apprenticeship program and create our own pipeline of skilled CNC machinists.

The leaders on the site created a vision of what they wanted this program to become and the impact they wanted to have on society that included increasing the skills base in the regions, so that it would attract other employers and therefore, build the economy in the region. We wanted to provide jobs to people, which then provides taxes and builds the economy. We wanted to employ young people as well as a diverse population. And, we wanted to impact the business by closing the skills gap. Little did we know that starting this program would not only close the skills gap, but it would produce 9 dollars for every dollar invested.     

KE:  Thank you Linda. That is fantastic. I’ve understood from our discussions that this return on investment and the ability to show that for every dollar invested, that there is a 9 dollar return is instrumental in convincing leadership in Virginia to not only embrace apprenticeship for skills development going forward, but to also think about how the company can take it to the next level, for building the talent pipeline a few years in advance. Can you tell us about that? 

LH: Initially, we started more in a reactive mode. Now, our leaders are saying things like that we need 50 more people in this area of business in two years. We should start now and bring in high school students who can then become apprentices.

They’re going forward in doing that. In our last round, we hired eleven high-school interns and we have more than 30 people in the program right now. We’ve been able to upskill our existing workforce.

KE: Linda, this is fantastic, it’s fascinating what you’ve been able to achieve with the program and now gaining the buy-in to develop that talent pipeline, years in advance of the onset and integration of new technology into the company so that Rolls Royce has a smooth transition into as what Paul said earlier, Industry 4.0. I’m going to invite our other speakers to comment on what you’ve said and where they are in their pathway to create that kind of long-term buy-in.

JW: In reference to what Linda was saying, at Zurich, claims and underwriting were the areas where we were starting to look at that needed entry-level positions and needed the apprenticeship model the most. What we started to do is talk to business across the board and go into areas such as corporate law, marketing, and premium audit to talk with them about how to use apprenticeship. We’ll start with our first human resources apprentice in this upcoming class in August.

We’re trying to encourage the business to look at professions, as Paul was saying earlier, in places where we may not have naturally thought about apprenticeship and trying to get people to think futuristically about what’s up ahead, and how we might use apprenticeship in a different way for talent acquisition strategies.

ML: At Randstad, when thinking about the typical way of the recruitment process to get new people into entry-level positions, this is something we know how to do and manage. But when we think about different talent pools, they are out there, they are in our society. It’s up to us to take on this courage to try new talent pools.

We know we can set them into entry-level positions, and this is why we are trying to deliver results from different talent pools.  That is our question - on whether we can deliver different results from a new talent pool. This is why we’ve been running this project for almost over a year and discovering these new results from different ways, not only on the numbers and business side, but our brand positioning as well - our conversation with society is now on a completely different level.

PC: From my point of view, let’s be straightforward about this – future talent is really vital, but it’s not about sitting around the table to get people to try and join the apprenticeship revolution. It’s about the future of skills in the US and those who haven’t joined the workforce yet. One of the crucial things I feel is that we have to start getting dual enrolment programs, like the ones in Switzerland, where we are dual enrolling young people in schools, in STEM education programs, school-to-apprenticeship programs. They are starting a meritocracy and an opportunity in this. Lastly, I’m hoping when this generation comes through, that we’ll have a vibrant and robust apprenticeship community turning out young people and the skills that America needs to be at Employment 5.0.

KE: I thank you all for your time, for your insights and for your passion on this topic. This is part of the goal of SkillingNow, to create a discussion on skilling for the future of good work. It starts with us and each of you, as one of our aims is to create as Paul mentioned, an apprenticeship revolution, to motivate others to take this on and into the future. Thank you all very much. For those of you listening out there, thank you for your time, your interest, we look forward to having you with us on the next edition of SkillingNow.