The Government has announced a £1.5 million grant programme for employers who want to run projects aimed at those who have taken a career break due to caring responsibilities and are looking to get back to work.
The fund is open from today for projects which create new job opportunities within the private sector and targeted employment sectors, including retail; law; tech and telecoms; science, technology, engineering and maths industries; creative industries; could not otherwise be established by the market; address specific barriers for returners and can be replicated at scale; can demonstrate self-sustainability beyond the initial funding period of the grant; increase understanding of how best to support a) returners to gain paid employment and b) employers to recruit and support returners.
What is a returner?
The Government Equalities Office defines a ‘returner’ as a person who left paid employment for at least a year to take on a caring responsibility and would like to return to paid work at a level commensurate with their skills and experience. Applications for the first round of bidding should be submitted by 30th March and for the second round by 16th August.
The announcement comes after the Government Equalities Office published guidance over the weekend on best practice for organisations thinking of setting up their own returner programmes.
The guidance, compiled by Women Returners and Timewise, covers advice for both larger organisations and SMEs.
It includes sections on the business case for returner initiatives and what returners are seeking from the initiatives. There is advice on the kind of support returners need, on the need for training of line managers, on the importance of a supportive, flexible culture and on attracting and recruitment candidates as well as on the best length of programme and other structural issues.
The guidance also covers the importance of flexible job design and there is a section on SMEs which sets out the case for supported hiring. It advises SMEs to consider returners’ broad experience, for instance, voluntary work or self employment.. It says: “This breadth and flexibility of skills can be of real benefit to a smaller organisation.”
It sets out how flexible hiring can have budget benefits for SMEs, for instance, it says that having a part time Finance Director supported by a full-time junior could be a cost-effective way to get the finance team an SME needs. It advises that job design is “pivotal” to making part-time and flexible arrangements work and says returners often want to work locally so SMEs located outside of a large city can use this to their advantage by advertising locally on social media and getting their employees to spread the word within their local networks. Communication is key to getting buy-in for returner initiatives from managers, it adds.
The guidance contains several case studies. Alongside the guidance, the Government Equalities Office has published a returners toolkit for employers written by the Women’s Business Council.