A holistic approach to returners

Cheryl Townend says FDM Group’s returner programme helped rebuild her confidence and helped her back into a job in project management.

a woman at work


Cheryl Townend thought she was taking a year out of her career as a project manager when she had her second daughter. That one year morphed into 10, however, and, although she did a stint as a maths teacher in between, she admits it was hard to find a way back onto her original career path…until she came across FDM Group, or, to be more accurate, until FDM Group came across her.

Cheryl had spent 13 years as a computer programmer and software project manager before her first daughter was born. She returned to work, but found the long hours and weekend working, the mandatory travel abroad and the lack of a support network – her husband travelled regularly, her parents live in the US and her in-laws at the other end of England – made life very difficult. When she had her second daughter, who had a lot of medical needs, the job she had became untenable.

Over the next 10 years she did a small amount of administrative work and taught maths part time at a secondary school while looking to get back to the career she had loved. She found teaching was not as family friendly as she had thought, meaning she often missed her own children’s school events, and it was not essentially what she wanted to do.

Beginning the search

When she finally decided to transition back to IT project management, she was unsure what to Google. She looked at apprenticeships for older people and eventually came across returner programmes, but either they didn’t offer a role which was the right fit for her or she didn’t get an interview.

So she beefed up her LinkedIn profile. When she started she had just five contacts on it; she now has 600. She trawled her contacts, but found many had moved on. She now says, with the benefit of hindsight, that keeping LinkedIn updated is vital for those taking a career break. She updated her profile, stating that she was looking for project management roles and to return to work after a career break. She even said she would consider an unpaid internship.

It was through that profile that FDM Group, which won the Workingmums.co.uk’s Overall Top Employer Award, found her. “It was a godsend,” she says. They suggested she look at their returner programme. She sent her cv and was selected for a trial day. “I was beyond nervous,” she says. “I had to reboot myself from scratch.” She didn’t even have a suit and her friends helped her to practice her interview technique. In fact, the trial day was not the ordeal she had anticipated. There was a lot of group working, presentations and business problem solving plus a general knowledge test.

“FDM Group is looking at the total package,” says Cheryl. “That’s what makes them special. Everyone was very supportive. It was a rigorous professional process, but it wasn’t competitive. It was so nice too to find my tribe and not feel so isolated. People had taken time off for many different reasons. Everyone had different stories. I had felt like a lone wolf before that day. I felt this might work, that this is what I need.”

Training programme

Cheryl was selected for FDM’s seven-week training programme. It was based in London, although FDM runs programmes around the world. There were 15 people in her cohort, including men.  The initial focus was on confidence building. “The focus from minute one of day one was on building up our confidence. I realised that I didn’t need to apologise for taking a career break, that I had my previous skills and more from my career break and that I could be loud and proud about these. It was a revelation,” she says. While she was searching for ways back in before, she consulted a career coach who told her to blank out her age and employment dates. FDM told her not to do that and that she should be confident and know her own value. It flipped that advice on its head.

The training programme offered a range of skills training for different roles and trainees could choose those which were more appropriate and relevant for them. Cheryl earned certification in two different project management methodologies, including the agile scrum master methodology, and in business analysis.

FDM Group has a network of contacts across industry and the trainees’ cvs, which they worked on assiduously over the course of the programmes, were accessible to account managers. By week four Cheryl had been recruited to a role which was a perfect fit for her. “Instead of seeking positions we were sought by the account managers,” she says. “It was a watershed moment. After spending a year and a half looking for positions people wanted me.”

FDM Group returners commit for two years and are placed as consultants within its network of industry contacts over that period. Cheryl’s first contract was a three-month one doing financial analysis at a bank. The day she finished and returned to FDM Group she got her current role as a project manager at Deutsche Bank. She works full time and admits that was one of her greatest fears.


She says the training programme, which operates on shorter days, gives trainees time to sort out or test childcare and get back into the swing of commuting. She adds that many of her cohort have managed to negotiate flexible working, such as some homeworking or flexi hours, after they have begun their contracts and “the company discovers how amazing they are”. Cheryl, whose children are not now 16 and 13, can work from home if necessary and says she has not missed any school events, unlike when she was a teacher.

The cohort format of the training programme also means she has a supportive group of friends on hand. “I have developed what I know will be lifelong friends and we meet regularly,” says Cheryl. “Everyone supports each other always. Part of that is because FDM Group never made it about competition. If anyone was placed it was because their skills matched the position on offer. I feel very lucky to have had the benefit of such a supportive programme and environment.”


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