workingmums.co.uk is holding a workshop next week with Capgemini on returning to work after a career break. Here we outline some of the issues for returners.
Are you looking to get back to work after a career break? The chances are that you may be feeling it is going to be even more of an uphill challenge given growing unemployment and fast-changing workplaces.
There is no denying that it is more difficult to find a new job if you have been out of the workplace for years. Over the years, workingmums.co.uk has received countless emails from women who have struggled to get a job that matches their experience and qualifications. Pretending it isn’t hard is not going to help anyone who has experience of applying for a string of jobs and has exhausted all their personal and work contacts.
But it is not all gloom and doom. The Covid pandemic has affected different sectors in different ways. Some have been closed down entirely, some have reduced what they do, others have functioned more or less as normal but remotely and others still have increased their workload. Skills shortages still abound in certain sectors, particular technology and health-related ones.
We know at workingmums.co.uk that many employers are still very much committed to gender diversity, despite all the negative headlines [which is not to deny that Covid has been very challenging for many women]. We’ve seen it at our roundtables. Some have continued to run returner programmes, onboarding remotely in the last year. Many of those who haven’t have put their programmes on pause rather than stopping them altogether and new programmes are being considered all the time.
Returner programmes are often small scale, though, but they are growing and expanding across sectors. Having started in the financial services sector, they now exist in everything from law to advertising and IT. Some are cross-sectoral, others run by individual companies. Most were based in London in the early days, but this is changing too and greater remote working may make access easier.
Pre-Covid employers discussed how to scale returner programmes up and normalise the hiring of people with career gaps. They also spoke about how the programmes have a wider impact, showing line managers who might have negative stereotypes about people who have taken career breaks that returners are a boon in the workplace, bring tonnes of experience both of work and of life and a different perspective. That changes the narrative. Most of those who have run returner programmes who I have spoken to speak of being bowled over by the talent on offer. Some have even said they are angry that such talented people may apply for roles that are much below their abilities.
Some employers also view returner programmes as a fairly easy way to boost the diversity of their senior roles and, despite the suspension of gender pay gap reporting, pressure for action on gender equality is not likely to go away any time soon.
Longer term trends will continue, despite Covid. People will continue to work longer as people retire at a later age, for instance, and career breaks are therefore likely to become more common. Furlough, indeed, is a form of prolonged career break and those returning from breaks will need support. Employers who have a returner programme in place will be better placed to provide that support.
Returner programmes are not how most people get back to work after a career break, however. So what are the main challenges to finding a route back in? workingmums.co.uk’s surveys over the years show that there are three main challenges to getting back to work after a career break: lack of confidence, lack of or perceived lack of flexible working and, for parents, lack of available childcare.
Confidence is all about how you feel about yourself as a person who has taken a career break. It is about realising that no-one can eradicate your years of experience, that your experience outside the workplace, what you have done in your career break, brings huge value that can be transferred to a work setting, that many people who have had a career break fear that their skills are out of date, but that this is not something that is irreversible. Your job is still basically the same, even if the technology you use to do it has changed and will keep on changing. I wrote an article earlier this week about ‘techposter syndrome’. It’s common. Almost everyone feels like technology is advancing faster than their ability to keep up. Even if you had stayed in your job you would be constantly having to learn new systems. That is why what many employers are looking for is an openness to learn and adaptability rather than mastery of specific systems [unless this is central to the job]. Who is more adaptable to change than a parent?
Flexible working is more common these days and will surely be more possible after Covid. Childcare may be a bigger challenge, given the impact of Covid on the sector. The cost continues to increase and you may need to think in the longer term – about future earnings.
Next comes the practicalities of searching for roles that suit your skills, whether through jobs boards, job adverts, direct approaches to employers, social media sites like LinkedIn or just asking friends and ex-work contacts. Depending on the sector you are in and the length of your career break, you may need to take a refresher course. You may want to switch sectors and retrain. Freelancing or contracting could be a way in, as could voluntary work. LinkedIn has professional groups you can join and find out about opportunities; local business networks could also help. Devise a plan of action, hone your search and exhaust all the possibilities. It may take time, but you will get there.
For more information on getting back to work after a career break, read our Back to work toolkit. workingmums.co.uk is holding a workshop on returning to work with Capgemini on Tuesday. For more information, click here.