Episode 10:Chad Chaffee, cybersecurity apprentice with Apprenti
Chad Chaffee, a cybersecurity apprentice with Apprenti, discusses the benefits of inclusive apprenticeship for people with disabilities. He dives into how the culture of inclusion at Apprenti encouraged him to self-disclose his ADHD and provided him access to a career in a high-growth, high demand sector in a supportive and inclusive workplace environment.
Intro: [00:00:01.04] Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrell, 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 is tired of the status quo. Now here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:00:27.40] This episode of the Workology Podcast is part of our podcast series powered by the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship, or PIA. PIA is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, or ODEP. In November of 2020, ODEP launched PIA to ensure all apprenticeship programs are inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities. PIA collaborates with employers and apprenticeship programs to help meet employer talent needs and enable people with disabilities to benefit from apprenticeships that increase their opportunities for lifelong access to high-growth and high-demand jobs. The 7th annual National Apprenticeship Week, or NAW, is taking place November 15th through the 20th of this year, 2021. This allows us the opportunity to highlight the opportunities available and successes achieved through apprenticeship training, particularly for people with disabilities. Today, I’m joined by Chad Chaffee, an apprenticeship in cybersecurity with Apprenti who has a self-disclosed disability. This is the first opportunity we’ve had to talk with an apprentice in the program, and I am so happy that Chad is part of this podcast. You’re going to love it. So many great insights. Wait and see. Chad, welcome to the Workology Podcast.
Chad Chaffee: [00:01:47.17] Well, thank you for having me, Jessica. I really appreciate this opportunity to talk.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:01:51.43] You know, we’ve been, we’ve talked, we’ve had Apprenti on the podcast a couple of different times and we have been talking about apprenticeships for a number of different years. But this is the first time that we’ve had an actual apprentice on the podcast. I’m so excited. I want to jump right in first and talk about your background and what led you to seek an apprenticeship.
Chad Chaffee: [00:02:12.70] Great, you know, I’ve had a pretty diverse background in terms of how I got to an apprenticeship decision. I started off in the service industry waiting tables and bartending, which was a nice, fast-paced, quick-moving industry. Eventually, I got a little, little tired of that and didn’t see corporate America doing manufacturing, sales and things like that, and found it to not be as stimulating to my mind or work towards my, work towards my strengths. And so, I decided that it would be wise and something I’ve desired to switch careers fully and move into a, an industry that I thought really would always be up and coming and play to my desires to learn and desire to increase information that I would be taking in. So, I came across this apprenticeship opportunity through Apprenti and thought it would be a perfect way for me to learn a new trade or a new industry while on the job with guidance and learning, rather than starting from the beginning in a higher ED situation as, you know, cybersecurity is currently changing. Change very quickly.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:03:54.82] I love that you are new in the program and are relatively new in the program and you have made this decision. I wanted to talk about maybe some of the challenges that you’ve experienced in previous roles when you’ve had to disclose your disability.
Chad Chaffee: [00:04:11.83] You know, I actually came to the diagnosis of ADHD in my adult years and, so I’ve lived most of my life thinking that the way I learned or the way I moved was just not acceptable and was different and almost even a character flaw. So, when I had the initial desire to determine what was going on with my learning process and what was going on with the other ways that didn’t seem to fit in with how everyone else was working, to reach out and ask and get some answers to those questions. So I worked with, worked with a behavioral therapist and came to the conclusion that I did, in fact, have ADHD and that it wasn’t that it was a character flaw per se, but that it was more of how my brain worked and how, you know, other people out there are experiencing the same, you know, different way of thinking and different way of learning. One of the biggest, biggest challenges that I found was actually admitting or reaching out and sharing the vulnerability of this new realization. At first, I didn’t seem, you know, I don’t want to say worthy, but I didn’t feel as though there was an acceptable reason for me to share it as a disability, mostly because when I thought of people who had disabilities and who needed that assistance in moving through the workforce, that I thought of them as, as having this disability that was apparent, that was clear. When you looked at an individual, you said, yes, this is an individual that’s going to need some assistance, because my disability was internalized, it almost felt like I would, as a fraud.
Chad Chaffee: [00:06:43.68] You know, it almost felt as though it wouldn’t be understood because it is something that doesn’t present when you first see me, as a disability, as a way of, again feeling worthy that I do need help and that there are ways that I could benefit from working with people in order to play to the strengths and also placate some of the challenges that I am experiencing in the professional world. So, it was getting over my, my own baggage that I carried with that, that was really the first, the first challenge, the first challenge to ask for help. It was about asking for help and not feeling as though there was something wrong with me that people couldn’t see, but that it was not, that, that it was an actual disability that I was managing quietly and alone. So just, just being able to share that vulnerability and my own fear of the admission, if that makes sense.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:08:19.15] Chad, I appreciate you sharing your story here. I know it’s, it’s not easy. And you’re helping so many people by, by being so vulnerable and open to talk about your experiences. I wanted to go a step further and, from your experience, what would it look like for an apprenticeship program and a workplace to be inclusive? And this is thinking about specifically someone who is diagnosed with ADHD.
Chad Chaffee: [00:08:50.21] When I first started with Apprenti, I hid what I was experiencing. Once, once I began the actual Apprenti process and working with the people that worked at Apprenti, the first thing that I noticed was an immediate display of acceptance and willing to help, and almost this cheerleader sense, like, we are here to help you, we are here to support you, we are here for your success. And then that gave me, planted the idea of, well, they’re here for my success. What can I, what can I ask for and what can I let them know that are some challenges in my own success? And as if an answer to my question, in one of our meetings, they introduced a lovely person. Her name was Emma and Emma came on as an inclusion specialist. Once I heard her speak on that, I felt an ability, a trust almost, that this is someone that I can talk to. This is someone that won’t judge me when I say “these are the challenges that I’m working on. How can you help me perhaps learn other tools and how can you create an environment where I can be vulnerable and sharing accurately and in detail what my experiences are?” And it was through that, really, really concentrated welcomeness, that openness of “we want you to succeed, and we want you to succeed in whatever position you’re in right now where, whatever background you’re coming from.”
Chad Chaffee: [00:10:58.78] When the inclusion specialist started speaking, I thought it felt like open arms. It felt like a nurturing situation. It felt as though I can come to this person. I can share my experience. When I did share my experience, the level of compassion that was shown, the level of validating, again that this is a real, real disability that people are trying to work through, it just helped me to open up. It helped me to not only open up but, you know, disclose some of my own personal questioning of who I am and how I learn. And continuing to speak about that, I was also offered a tool and, you know, weekly guidance and an ability to check-in. So, it was really the structure of the way Apprenti presented as this body, this, this company that really, really wanted their apprentices to succeed. And it was just an overflowing, overwhelming sense of community that no matter who you are, where you’ve come from, what your past is, we understand that you’re stepping into a new position and we understand that there are challenges, whatever they may be, that drove me to say, OK, I didn’t disclose this before, but now I feel comfortable because you’ve told me, you shared that we are in partnership together and, and you are a cheerleader and have all of the resources and want us to use all of the resources for our success.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:13:05.89] Chad, I wanted to ask you if there are specific accommodations that you have found helpful as someone with adult ADHD?
Chad Chaffee: [00:13:15.67] Yes. There have been many accommodations that I found helpful, you know, even suggestions and ways of learning, tools being offered that I might not have heard about like that, that really support what ADHD and how it presents in terms of things that help focus. So, one of the things that I was, was taught is sometimes you do need external stimulation while you’re trying to study, and that’s OK. Your, like, my focus, the fact that it wasn’t geared towards book learning and geared towards silent focus on one thing, being given these tools of, you know, fidget, fidget toys or being told it’s OK to get up every 15 minutes and wander around. And while you’re learning these things, it’s OK to move your body, be it, you know, walking around the room, pacing, standing up. So, the accommodations that they had in terms of allowing that, you know, we were in a remote situation so it was much easier. And also, the accommodations of sharing pools of learning and allowing space to maybe fall back on a deadline and understand that, you know, the procrastination was more anxiety driven. And anxiety-driven, that’s one of the, you know, classic symptoms of ADHD. So, it’s not a specific accommodation. It was more about, here are the tools that we can offer and please share with us some of the anxieties that you have. And let us create a, an environment and a, and a compassion and understanding that the timeline might not work for you. That extensions or, you know, other, other environments of learning may be best for you because it’s not that you can’t do it, you can do it. It’s just in a different way. And that was made very clear by, by Apprenti and by their inclusion specialists, and that, that really helped, that really helped in coming to a peace within, within myself and, you know, learning that I can ask for an extension and I can ask for some patience and, and an ability to move my body.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:16:32.90] So I want to switch gears and think about the individual now. And, and I wanted to ask you what made you comfortable enough to have conversations with the Apprenti team and your employers about having ADHD? And also, maybe you could think about any advice that you give to someone who might be in your position who has a similar diagnosis.
Chad Chaffee: [00:16:57.79] The first thing that I want to say is, it is not your fault. You’ve done nothing wrong, and this is a conversation that I’ve had to have with myself. And that conversation within myself was mirrored by Apprenti. It was mirrored by this wonderful, knowledgeable person that it is not my fault. It is just something, that it is a way that my brain worked. I didn’t do anything wrong. And with that validation, it helped me to open up saying, OK, I’m not doing anything wrong. There’s nothing wrong with my character. I haven’t, I can learn. I can move in this environment and I can get support by compassionate people who are driven to offer successful ways and successful paths for this type of learning. And again, I can’t express enough of just hearing that there’s nothing wrong with me, that it is just the way that I work, and not, you know, that doesn’t fit into the classical mode of learning. But it’s just that I’ve learned in a different way. And that was, that was, just opened the can of worms within me that said, OK, now I can be honest and vulnerable.
Break: [00:18:50.70] Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell and you are listening to the Workology Podcast. We’re sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace the HR exam. Today we are talking with Chad Chaffee. He’s an apprentice in cybersecurity who has a self-disclosed disability, and we’re doing this to help raise awareness for National Apprenticeship Week. This podcast is part of a podcast series powered by the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship or PIA.
Break: [00:19:19.91] This episode of the Workology Podcast is part of a new podcast series powered by the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship, or PIA. PIA is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, ODEP. In November, ODEP launched PIA to ensure all apprenticeship programs are inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities. PIA collaborates with employers and apprenticeship programs to help meet employer talent needs and enable people with disabilities to benefit from apprenticeships that increase their opportunities for lifelong access to high-growth, high-demand jobs.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:19:58.13] How did you find Apprenti and why did you decide to work with them?
Chad Chaffee: [00:20:02.78] Well, I found, I found Apprenti through the Mass Jobs. I had a moment of unemployment while we were going through the shutdown for the COVID pandemic. Within that moment of unemployment, I took that to be an opportunity of change. The world was changing how the world was
working was changing. And I figured that in that silence that we all came to, in that deep introspection that I started to have, I was looking for change myself, and thankfully through Massachusetts unemployment and the services that they offered, it really gave me an opportunity to look into what programs worked for me and my desires. So, I started searching for apprenticeship programs. I came across Apprenti as I was searching for programs within the technology field. What drew me to the technology field was the ever-changing atmosphere within that, within that industry. And I didn’t know how to get into it because I always thought you had to have a computer science degree and that you had to attend high-level, high-level higher Ed in order to get that. And that wasn’t one of my strengths, working in a structured educational environment like that. I am a hands-on learner. I need to be doing rather than conceptualizing. And within the technological field of apprenticeship, I came across Apprenti. And Apprenti was all about bringing people into this new career with support. And they helped in, they helped in job placement and training programs. And I thought, wow, that, what a great match for me to get into a field that I believed was completely out of my reach.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:22:31.39] I love that so much. And for those of you who are interested, we also have a podcast interview with Jennifer Carlson of Apprenti, and I’ll include that in the show notes of the show over on Workology.com. My next question for you, Chad, is, how did you decide on an apprenticeship in cybersecurity? What drew you there?
Chad Chaffee: [00:22:56.14] Well, you know, as we’ve been hearing in the news and I was sort of, you know, becoming more and more aware of this need for protection of personal identity, personal information and also the increase of ransomware and attacks. And I started to think, you know, what is happening? What are they doing? And there’s this major growth in this vulnerability and, how can I help? You know, I’m a service-driven person. I, you know, going back to working in the service industry, right? I, I kind of put two and two together and said, this is a service-driven rather than a profit-driven aspect of technology, and it’s growing and it’s something that I can grow into. So, it really just hit upon a lot of my own personal, my personal drive to help. And it was also something that I saw that isn’t going to be going away anytime soon, and this is now one of the new front lines of protection, protection for corporations, protection for people and, you know, protection for our own national safety. And I thought, you know, what a great way to be of service. I would love to get into that field.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:24:41.36] Well, I mean, we all use technology. Most of us, I think on a daily basis or multiple times. I mean, this is a digital podcast and we’re recording it using all these technologies. So, I definitely think cybersecurity is something that all of us should be thinking about. Just to kind of follow up here, data shows that the average apprentice will earn an average of three hundred thousand more over their lifetime than their non-apprenticeship peers. Do you think participating in an apprenticeship program has positively impacted your earning potential?
Chad Chaffee: [00:25:18.99] I do. I very much do. And this harkens back to almost a, an idea within our society that trade, trade schools, pay focus isn’t, isn’t as redeeming or, I almost want to say, of a higher status, right? It’s higher Ed. Getting your bachelor’s degree, that a bachelor’s degree sort of proves that you’ve done something to get that and that’s not to play it down in any way, shape, or form. But in a focused trade, we are learning a focused necessity that is, is a direct line into what it is that is needed within that,
within that trade. So, I almost implore a lot of people to rethink the idea of moving into higher ED and thinking about the trade industry. So, I view this as moving into a trade industry and I, I find that I’m finding now in my new position that that focused attention on this specific trade, how it’s helped me excel in a way that going into this vast job field where there might not be a clear direction causes a little bit of distress. And within these focused trades, you know where you’re going, you know where the necessity is and that translates into money, right? We’re all here to make some money, we have to pay bills, we have to live, we have to eat, we need a roof over our head. And, and it just seems, as though that is really setting people up for success to not only succeed but become a valuable asset almost immediately in that focus, so I can really, I can really relate to the, the increased financial value that is seen within a focused attention into a field that requires a commitment in that attention.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:28:03.12] I feel like we’ve touched on this a little bit, we’ve kind of danced around it, but I want to ask you specifically, if remote work is a good accommodation for people with ADHD? Do you think that’s the case? And then, if so, yes or no? Why? Why is that?
Chad Chaffee: [00:28:20.16] Oh, goodness, yes, absolutely. And I can give very specific examples. So being in an office setting within a corporation, there was almost the sense of being locked in a cage. I felt as though I had to remain contained, remain visually focused because again, one of my symptoms of ADHD is, is physical movement and a constant need for distraction, for loud music to be playing, which then helps me focus. So, working remotely has given me a freedom to, I really, really don’t like to say this, but a freedom to be who I am and to learn and to focus the way I need to focus. I will tell you right away, as soon as we all moved to a remote environment, my productivity shot at least 25 percent more in accuracy and in getting the work done. So, I will, moving forward, push for remote working as something that is beneficial to me. First of all, in my comfort level, in my ability to remove anxiety of this walking into a, a perceived cage. And at home or in my own environment, being able to wander around my, my office, to be able to, this is my own personal experience, take in information and do some push-ups, or take in information and sit for 15 minutes with my eyes closed, working on my breathing so that I can absorb that information rather than, you know, feeling really self-conscious about what are people seeing? And are they judging me? And then letting that sort of that monkey get out of control in my brain, which then I have to come back and figure out, how am I going to quiet that down? How am I going to keep that from interfering with my, with my work when I really just want to be focusing on my job? So, the tools that I’ve been given, working with Apprenti and working with other professionals, I can use without worrying, worrying about what other people think, you know. You know, we always say, oh, don’t worry what other people think.
Chad Chaffee: [00:31:38.67] You know, it’s what works best for you. But in a visible, you know, a visible controlled environment, that doesn’t always, always work, you know? You know, people and not even within my perception, but people develop judgments on what they see. We know that, within the first 17 seconds of meeting someone, you’ve already come to a judgment that needs to now be unlearned and relearned who that person is. So, bouncing around in an office where, you know, there are several people around me, you know, didn’t come across as this is a serious person who is seriously working. It’s more like, you know, they’re, they’ve got a lot of energy and they’re not focused or paying attention on the job. But at home in, in working remotely, I mean, I was shocked at how much my, my productivity went up and how much freedom I had. You blast the music and, you know, move my body and step away in order to, to get that focus back. So, long answer made short, it is an amazing way and an amazing accommodation to resolve anxiety and to allow, in my situation, to allow me to take away the thoughts of what are they thinking about me and how I’m
moving through the world. And allowing me to use the tools that I need for my success. And, and to be able to use those tools and not worry about what that’s being perceived as.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:33:44.36] What would you like employers to know about the importance of creating inclusive apprenticeship programs, maybe that we haven’t already discussed?
Chad Chaffee: [00:33:55.14] See, I’d like to share with employers that, that are taking on apprentices that we really want to do the job. We are an apprentice here because we want to be here. We want to learn. We want to participate. We want that hands-on experience that, that doesn’t sometimes happen in other environments and that we’re choosing them. You know, a lot of times when you’re going out for a job, you’re hoping that they choose you. As an apprentice, it’s, I think it’s almost an honor to the employer that we want to be there. We trust their knowledge. We trust their guidance and we trust that they’re going to put us in a position of success that we have partnered with them. And that as an apprentice, the desire is to learn what they know, to let that knowledge be passed down through experience-learning, and in that again, as an apprentice, it’s, it’s really a choice that we’re making to come in in a trust with an employer that you will teach us how. And we want to know how and when it comes into inclusion, not only of an apprentice coming in to, to partner with the employer, but in disclosing that there is another way I move through the world. Can we figure out a way that not only have we chosen to partner with you, but that we can partner with you in the most successful way possible? And can I share with you as a team member how I can use tools that you may have that you can offer me to be even better or to learn even more and share talents that you might know that I have already and may exceed your expectations.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:36:31.73] One of the things I want to make sure to mention, and I again appreciate your vulnerability and honesty, you’re helping so many HR leaders right now as they’re building out their inclusive apprenticeship programs. But I also want to mention that PIA has recently released two new resources designed to help people with disabilities through the apprenticeship process and ensure the program in which they are enrolled is inclusive. So, we have two, the two resources Advancing Your Career through Inclusive Apprenticeship and Becoming an Apprentice. I’m going to include those in the show notes of this podcast episode, and you can go to Workology.com to take a look. Last question, Chad, what has your experience in your apprenticeship been like for you? Is it meeting your expectations as you complete your apprenticeship program?
Chad Chaffee: [00:37:23.30] Oh, it is beyond my expectations and in several ways, it’s beyond my expectations on the amount that I am learning, the amount of guidance, the amount of partnership of my mentors, the kindness that I’ve been offered, and the tools that I’ve been given to learn and just doing the hands-on work. Has taken this abstract idea and put it to use, which has, I can’t, I can’t even say how much I value doing the work. And what it does for my learning and for my confidence level is as I’m learning I’m thinking, I can do this and I can ask questions of my seniors, you know, I say my seniors, people who have been in this field for so long, that, and get the right answers. And that has just blown my mind that even, even within the training process through Apprenti, just the experience in general, I, I think I’ve told them almost too many times. I’m so grateful for this because of the support that you’ve given, and I haven’t really experienced that one-on-one support in any other field or experience that I’ve had. And, and being in this apprenticeship really has built a confidence. And I am in the right place, I am doing the right thing, I am driven to this drive, the level of motivation that it’s giving me. To say, oh, I’m getting this, I want more and the acknowledgment of the people who have been mentoring me to say, wow, I think we can give you more. You’re showing talents that we wouldn’t have expected. And I think that’s very valuable to not only them, but to me, you know to be, to be a team member who’s an asset, you know? And a dynamic team member who has been able to reach out to multiple departments and say, Hey, I’m new, I’m an apprentice. What can you teach me? And the willingness, I’m overwhelmed by the willingness actually to say, make a meeting with me and we’ll teach you everything we know. Let’s do this together. Let’s do this together. And that is valuable beyond, beyond belief. Let’s do this together.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:40:41.83] Well, Chad, thank you so much for sharing so many great insights today on not only your willingness to share about your ADHD but just your experience as an apprentice going through Apprenti’s apprenticeship program. I want to say thank you. I really appreciate the time and what you shared with us.
Chad Chaffee: [00:41:08.95] Well, I really appreciate the conversation, and I do hope that anyone who might be feeling some of the things that I have been feeling that it lets them know you’re not alone and it’s not you. And you can ask for help. And there are people out there that are passionate about helping and passionate about giving the tools in which we can find success. But again, it’s not you. It is just how we learn and how we move through the world.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:41:46.02] Thank you again, Chad, and I will link to your LinkedIn profile in the show notes, as well as all the other resources that we’ve chatted about today. Thank you again.
Chad Chaffee: [00:41:55.44] Thank you. I appreciate it.
Closing: [00:41:57.79] A special thank you for Chad for sharing his story. You know, I think sometimes we forget about the people in Human Resources. It really is about the people and I’ve been having so many conversations with HR leaders and I’m thinking more about empathy, putting more empathy into my HR department and the work that we do. This topic about apprenticeship programs is important, but certainly for people with disabilities, including those with ADHD. This is such an interesting area of focus for HR professionals, especially those who have helped support memberships and mentorship and apprenticeships in their own careers. Being able to directly hear from someone who is participating in an active apprenticeship program I think is so valuable and I thank Chad for sharing his experience with us today. Thank you as well to PIA, who is powering this podcast through Workology. And a special thank you to our podcast sponsors Upskill HR and Ace the HR exam.
Closing: [00:42:56.74] This podcast is for the disruptive workplace leader who’s tired of the status quo. My name is Jessica Miller-Merrell, and until next time, you can visit Workology.com to listen to all our Workology Podcast episodes.
Closing: [00:43:09.44] Personal and professional development is essential for successful HR leaders. Join Upskill HR to access live training, community, and over a hundred on-demand courses for the dynamic leader. HR recert credits available. Visit UpskillHR.com for more.
Workology Podcast | www.workologypodcast.com | @workology