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AECOMs Jo Atkinson discusses finding and nurturing key talent

AECOM's Jo Atkinson discusses finding and nurturing key talent

 March 24, 2020

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Jo Atkinson is the Human Resources (HR) Director for Continental Europe at AECOM. In her position, she is responsible for leading the region’s human resources team to deliver an integrated talent strategy - in a nutshell, Jo ensures the company attracts, retains and nurtures the very best talent.

Where Women Work learns about Jo’s career journey at AECOM, as well as her top tips for anyone looking to join AECOM’s talented workforce.

Choosing HR and seeing success

Jo began her journey into HR when she chose to study Human Resource Management at university. At the time, her subject choice was purely based on her uncertainty about a future career and wanting a business-type degree to keep her options open.

“I knew that I particularly enjoyed working with people so, in the absence of a defined path, I chose to play to my strengths and focus on something I enjoyed,” Jo recalls.

“I spent a year in industry as part of the degree and, being a practical learner, this offered me great experience of what the reality was in HR. I liked the variety it offered and I enjoyed interacting with managers and their teams – it seemed to come naturally to me, I was genuinely interested in the business and what made people tick. When I took my first role as an HR Officer after University I didn’t look back.”

Jo admits that, when she chose to join AECOM, she wasn’t very familiar with the company but she was drawn to the business for a variety of reasons.

“I’m fascinated by what we deliver to our clients and therefore the impact we have in society. I find this so interesting - and interest is a must for me when it comes to partnering with a business,” Jo explains.

“I was also keen to work for a global organisation and wanted the opportunity to work in a large HR team with specialist resources and international colleagues. I haven’t been disappointed - in my years with AECOM I’ve enjoyed being in learning mode, and I’ve hopefully given knowledge back too.”


Jo and the Continental Europe HR Team

Favourite elements of the job

So what does Jo enjoy most about her current Director position with AECOM?

“I sometimes wonder how I can make HR sound interesting when so many people still see it as ‘hire and fire’,” Jo muses. “But, in simple terms, I see it as my job to help create an environment where people want to, and are able to, perform at their best. That could sound like management speak, but really when you break it down that’s what it's all about; how do we attract the best people, how do we then keep them and how do we get the best out of them? There’s no one answer to how we achieve all of that and that’s what keeps my work interesting.”

Jo AECOM presentation

Jo presenting at the AECOM EVOLVE development programme

Jo was not initially familiar with business in Continental Europe, so discovering how the region works has been both the most challenging and the most rewarding element of her role so far.

“It's such a diverse part of the business, both in terms of language and culture, and I feel like I’m learning every day,” she explains. “From a people perspective, we have common focus areas that align with our AECOM Global Talent strategy, however, at a country level there are also factors that vary considerably and mean we need to take an agile approach to our planning.”

Jo onsite Netherlands AECOM

Jo visiting a project site in the Netherlands

Whilst Jo is busy building the AECOM brand and seeking to enhance the employee experience for all, she needs to respond to the local environment in order to remain competitive. With this comes great variety and opportunities for collaboration.

“Perhaps some of it has been driven by necessity in the past,” Jo adds. “However, I see great examples of this in our European business; exploring the best models for cross border collaboration and creating opportunities for our teams to enhance their AECOM network so we’re able to learn from each other.”

Professional beliefs and aims

When it comes to her professional beliefs and aims, Jo confesses that she was some way into her career before she became comfortable with who she is and what she stands for.

“At times I think I was too keen to ‘fit in’ and conform at the expense of really exploring my own opinions and understanding the value I was able to bring to a team,” she admits.

“As you develop in your career you learn from others and I think experience in different roles, teams and businesses allowed me to explore the good and the bad and consider what’s important to me. I’m a positive person and I like energy; I now embrace that and see it as a strength I can bring to a team.”

Jo believes in trust and authenticity; especially when making tough decisions. She wants people to enjoy what they do and to have fun at work – she recognises that work can be difficult but believes in keeping sight of creating an enjoyable working environment.

Jo rewarding AECOM colleagues

Rewarding and recognising colleagues is very important to Jo

Finding and keeping hold of the best talent

Having shared insight about her own career, job role and beliefs, Jo goes on to talk about the culture at AECOM - so if you are looking to join the company, now’s the time to pay close attention!

“There is no longer one way of working that is going to satisfy everyone – particularly in an organisation like AECOM where we offer a broad range of services to our clients, and therefore employ a broad range of people,” says Jo. “So, we need to be agile and able to respond to this in the environment we create. Whether it's time and place, or how people choose to carry out tasks in a way that works for them, we’re moving away from a one size fits all approach and instead tapping into the benefits that a diverse workforce can bring,” says Jo.

“We’re seeking to create an inclusive culture that enables us to attract and retain a diverse and engaged talent pool. Our Freedom to Grow philosophy is not about rules; it’s about how we get the best out of the uniqueness of every person and how we allow everyone to bring their ‘whole selves’ to work.”

“We’re seeing outdated assumptions being challenged on a daily basis,” she adds. “There is no end to the opportunities opening up for women - there are no barriers for anyone and meritocracy is the only thing that counts.”

AECOM Each for Equal IWD

Jo and AECOM colleagues celebrating International Women’s Day

An ever-changing people agenda

Jo describes AECOM as a ‘people business’ and says the competition for attracting and retaining talent is the biggest challenge that organisations face.

“The war for talent is on! Like many organisations, AECOM must evolve its thinking in how we attract talent - which might mean casting the net wider, challenging our own thinking and considering how we might explore skills in other sectors,” she comments.

“As I mentioned previously, agility is key – both in terms of our Freedom to Grow culture but also the structures we have that enable this. That might mean being more dynamic with less linear career models. It will certainly mean continuing to adapt to a multi-generational workforce who place higher priority on flexibility, wellbeing and collaboration. Ultimately, all organisations need the right leaders with a clear long-term vision and the ability to navigate through this changing environment.”

Final thoughts from Jo

For anyone interested in applying for jobs within the HR sector, Jo advises on how to enter the industry and the qualities most valued at AECOM.

“I’m not sure there is a logical career path in HR as there are so many different routes you can take. In my mind it's about gathering experience across a broad range of core elements and finding out what you enjoy and where you can add the most value. For me, that started with shared service and recruitment roles, progressing to field based employee relations within engineering contracting environments. This was a good ‘grounding’ and I was lucky enough to work on large scale change management projects that meant collaborating with colleagues from various HR Centres of Excellence such as Talent Management, Benefits and Reward,” she says.

Jo adds that curiosity is a key skill for any HR professional, as is the ability to build trusted relationships, being data driven and collaborating across the HR function for the best solutions.

“Remember to take risks and back yourself,” she concludes. “Like many others, I’ve been guilty of thinking I needed to be 100 percent perfect to take on a new role and believing everyone else had the capability that I was still developing. When I took on my first business partnering role, my boss said it was about being 60-70 percent ready and keen to learn. At the time that terrified me but, looking back, if I’d stuck to my own strategy the chances are I’d still be doing the same job 15 years later!”

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