Congregation B’nai Torah member Bradford Wilkins said he earned a spot among Workforce magazine’s 25 Game Changers for 2015 by finding a sweet spot as both a human resources practitioner and an industry thought leader.
The magazine recognition, marking Wilkins as one of the top 25 HR professionals under age 40 in the world, came a few months after he was promoted in March to vice president of talent management and HR services at Alpharetta-based Adcap Network Systems, where he built the talent management practice from scratch starting in March 2013.
“I got into HR because I like to help people become successful,” said Wilkins, a University of Maryland graduate who just married allergist Marissa Shams. “I measure happiness in how I help other people.”
He can measure success in the recent results of Adcap, a business-to-business technology solutions company founded in 2002. The company’s revenue increased from $24 million in 2012 to $52 million last year even while payroll declined by 15 percent, Wilkins said. Most of Adcap’s clients are in Georgia, including the Technical College System of Georgia, the Weather Channel and Popeyes.
For the second consecutive year, Adcap was named Atlanta’s No. 1 overall small or medium business to work for June 30 at the Atlanta’s Best and Brightest Companies to Work For awards ceremony, a program of the National Association for Business Resources.
“Bradford’s success building programs to identify, develop and promote talent at our company has propelled us to national attention as a leading Cisco solution integrator and a Best Place to Work in Atlanta,” Adcap President Matt Waring said in announcing Wilkins’ promotion in March.
A key innovation Wilkins has introduced at Adcap is an old idea, apprenticeship, modified to fit the technology market and the needs and attitudes of millennial employees.
One HR problem to address, Wilkins said, is the impatience of recent college graduates. Waiting a year to become eligible for a raise can seem like a lifetime to a 21-year-old, he said. But the typical response to that impatience is to tell millennials to get on board with the way a company has always done things or get out, “and they’re getting out.”
Wilkins said it makes more sense to meet them in the middle than to drive them away.
At the same time, experience is overrated, especially in technical fields, he said. “The world is changing so quickly that there’s very few professions that operate the same after 10 years.”
So why base hiring on 10-year-old experience?
Instead, Adcap has developed apprentice programs, including the only no-experience-required entry-level Cisco engineering job in the country, Wilkins said. By emphasizing capabilities rather than specific professional experience or education, the programs enable Adcap to develop exactly the talent it needs internally. The focus is on a results-oriented workforce with clear career paths.
New employees have the opportunity to earn raises quarterly instead of annually, so they get quicker positive feedback and rewards, leading to more happiness even with lower pay increases on an annualized basis, Wilkins said. The apprentices learn from mentors who are vested in the new employees’ success with financial incentives.
“Anything like this program is impossible without drivers for success,” he said.
The emphasis on internal training is in part a recognition of the limitations of the college education system, Wilkins said.
“A college degree demonstrates the capacity to do what you don’t want to do when you don’t want to do it,” he said, adding that most of the knowledge being taught in college is readily accessible from books or even YouTube.
College grades don’t tell a recruiter much, he said, because “nobody except for you knows what you need for an A. That’s where the college system is broken.”
In addition to helping create a work environment at Adcap where employees are treated like adults but have fun like kids, Wilkins is in demand as a speaker within the HR industry. He said he talks at conferences about once a month.
With any innovative program, it’s easy to say something can’t be done, Wilkins said. You just have to cross out that apostrophe and the letter t.