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Insights Atkins Retains Gold for our Armed Forces Support

We're so proud to have re-validated our Gold Award under the Ministry of Defence (MOD's) Employer Recognition Scheme. And it's all down to employees who consistently give their time to help us shape inclusive policies and culture. Here we speak to Armed Forces Champion, Alistair, who recently worked on the team that made our Gold re-accreditation possible.

image of Alistair

Before joining AtkinsRéalis, Alistair had served in the Royal Armoured Corps for 31 years. Although leaving as a Lieutenant Colonel, he held many roles across his military career. These include tank squadron commander on operations, MOD programme & project manager, requirements manager, operations intelligence officer, and head of a Masters' programme at the Defence Academy. Today he's one of our talented Solution Architects in our Aerospace Defence Security & Technology (ADS&T) division.

What attracted you to Atkins, and how did you come to work here?

I worked closely with Atkins when in the MOD and had built a mutually trusting relationship. When I left, I took on a new role as a client manager working with the MOD and Army.

How did you find settling into civilian life?

I settled into life in civvy-street easily as I had years of experience working closely with Industry. I understood the commercial context of this sector. I had developed a great network of contacts in the Armed Forces, MOD, Atkins and wider Industry.

What is Partnering with Armed Forces (PwAF), and how did you become interested in it?

The Atkins PwAF programme is an internal advocacy programme that supports Atkins veterans and reservists as well as Service charities while endorsing and promoting the Armed Forces community across the engineering industry. It also provides a network of friendly colleagues that share support and advice in all areas of professional and military careers. As I'd benefited from two careers, one in the Army and then my more recent one in Atkins, I wanted to contribute to developing this community of interest and give something back to it. 

Congratulations on Retaining Gold for Atkins! What did your team have to do to ensure our organization held on to the Award?

image of the Armed forces convent scheme gold award logo

Thank you. The team had to develop a portfolio of evidence on five topics showing how we support Defence and the Armed Forces community and advocate for others to do the same:

  • Sponsoring a specific service charity and supporting and promoting Armed Forces Day and Reserves Day.

  • Organizing Armed Forces friendly events, describing how we achieved them.

  • Having specific HR and, or recruitment policies for Veterans, Service Leavers, the Wounded, Injured and Sick and Military spouses/partners.

  • Providing an Armed Forces network, supporting employees who are Reservists, Veterans and spouses/partners.
  • Displaying an enhanced understanding and appreciation of the Armed Forces through active engagement at military events and courses. 
  • Providing data on the number of veterans and reservists in Atkins. 

The PwAF Programme Manager at the time, Natalie Pattison, and I drafted the revalidation submission. An independent panel of senior officers and officials assessed it. So even though we were confident we'd be revalidated, we couldn't afford to be complacent.

I'd like to mention that our current PwAF Programme Manager, also Natalie, is a Junior Consultant with no military experience. But she's made up for her lack of background experience by being fantastically adaptable in her role.

What does diversity mean to PwAF? 

PwAF plays a key part in Atkins' Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) network for the UK and Europe (UK&E). Our community brings together ex-military, reservists, cadet instructors and forces families, so we speak for a diverse set of stakeholders in the ED&I network meetings. Andy Finch, MD of ADS&T, represents us on the UK&E's Operational Leadership Team, ensuring our voices are heard when shaping Atkins' People Strategy.  PwAF also works closely with our HR and recruitment teams to make sure Armed Forces candidates are well supported.

What kinds of diversity do ex-military personnel bring to Atkins?

Veterans bring an extensive set of knowledge, skills and experience from the many different functional career groups in the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army and the Royal Air Force. These range across a wide variety of engineering and non-engineering functions (many with portfolio, programme and project management training and experience) in the maritime, land and air and information domains. 

Officers and senior NCOs also bring valuable leadership and management skills, honed on peacetime training and operations. Together this knowledge, skill and experience give Atkins rounded, confident individuals – great team players and natural leaders with a strong work ethic and 'can do' attitude. Perfect for client programmes and projects.

How does PwAF support more opportunities for women? 

As with other industries, the MOD is keen to recruit more women into Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) roles, so it has increased its STEM outreach activities to promote opportunities for women in Defence. Atkins supports these initiatives either through HR recruitment activities, PwAF or through the Women in Defence Charter, which Atkins signed at the DSEi exhibition in 2019.

How are we levelling the playing field for talented ex-personnel?

By signing the Armed Forces Corporate Covenant in 2015 Atkins has committed to ensuring 'no member of the Armed Forces Community should face a disadvantage in the provision of public and commercial services compared with any other citizen'. 

Veteran applicants will often have non-traditional experiences on their CVs. They bring a valuable set of knowledge and expertise, so it's in Atkins' interest to evaluate their potential in an open-minded way. This is why Atkins interviewers have been trained to treat ex-service people's job applications with fairness and understanding. Some candidates may not fit the role requirements precisely but, with this in mind, Atkins recruiters and interviewers know how to see their potential to join us as talented consultants. 

How is Atkins championing this?

image of the team at a military insight days

For Service leavers: We organize biannual military insight days to assist their understanding of professional services companies. These are designed to help them match their knowledge, skills and experience to appropriate types of jobs. We also help them tailor their CVs and prepare for interviews. It makes their transition to civilian life smoother, levelling the playing field with those who've been in the design, engineering and project management sector for many years. 

PwAF also works with the Officers' Association, White Ensign Association and Buildforce, often collaborating on insight events, to access service leavers. Our veterans and reservists offer informal transition, job seeking, CV advice and mentoring to service leavers, reviewing CVs, and taking part in pseudo-interviews. 

For reservists: Atkins has a detailed set of guidelines for reservists and their line managers, to ensure everyone follows MOD and company procedures. The major enhancement introduced in 2015 when Atkins initially applied to become a Gold Award holder, was to provide an additional 10 days of annual leave. This made it possible for reservists to attend annual camps without sacrificing their annual leave entitlement. We've had reservists deployed on the MOD's COVID-19 Task Force, and we track them to ensure that they're treated fairly by the company before, during and after these deployments. 

How does Atkins help service families resettle into civilian work/life?

PwAF is a member of the MOD's Forces Families Jobs (FFJ) website which assists forces families to access a wide range of jobs. We currently have 10 roles on the site. We intend to focus on this aspect in the coming year to increase the number of forces family members in the company as this can be seen to be retention positive into the broader family. 

How does Atkins help overcome personal challenges experienced by Armed Forces employees?

Military service creates strong bonds between people operating in regiments, corps, units, ships and bases. The need for these bonds and their practical and emotional support continues after leaving the forces and entering civilian life. That's why joining a company or other commercial organization can be a daunting prospect. By offering a structured but informal network and events, such as PwAF and military insights workshops, we aim to overcome these challenges. The evidence from feedback to date is that our approach is highly effective at easing this emotional and professional gap!

Looking forward, what needs to be done to ensure we retain the Gold standard at Atkins?

We need to keep building on what we've been doing over the past few years. COVID-19 restrictions have, of course, heavily constrained our outreach activities this year. So, we look forward to re-establishing our best practice activities as soon as social distancing guidelines are relaxed. Hopefully, 2021 will be more 'normal', allowing us to hit the ground running with face-to-face events, recruitment and charitable fund-raising activities in full. 

What message do you have for ex-forces or transitioning personnel?

Industry recognizes your unique knowledge, skills and experience, so network with as many people in as many companies as you can. Attend military insight days with a range of companies to complement the MOD's career transition workshops and resettlement courses. Companies in the MOD's Employer Recognition Scheme want to help you make a successful transition so reach out to them before formally applying for their roles.

Atkins welcomes Service leavers with open arms recognizing the energy and talent you bring to the company. This is reflected in that having signed the Armed Forces Corporate Covenant in 2015, we remain a revalidated Gold Award member of the MOD's Employer Recognition Scheme. Our organization was also awarded Best Large Employer Company at the Heropreneur Awards last November. Atkins is a great place to be, and I’ve genuinely enjoyed being part of it.

Read more about the many different ways we support and value our people.