Returner Programmes

A returner programme offers returners who have taken an extended career break, and are keen to get back into their profession a re-introduction to the workplace and address issues such as confidence as well as updating industry-specific knowledge. Businesses benefit from developing a pool of experienced talent. If you are running a returner programme get in touch.

Returner programmes – everything you need to know

Returner programmes are becoming fairly widespread in the UK as employers recognise the benefits of encouraging people who have taken a career break back to the workplace. What’s involved, what do companies and employees gain, and how can you find out about them?

What’s the main purpose of returner programmes?

Thousands of people leave the workforce every year to look after children or vulnerable relatives. When the time comes for them to seek a return to work, it can be very challenging. Many parents end up taking a less senior role or reduced pay, despite their skills and prior experience.

Large employers began introducing Returner Programmes a few years ago, partly to help address the gender pay gap and partly to benefit from a new talent pool. These schemes are sometimes called career relaunch programmes, returnships or return to work schemes.

The fundamental purpose of these schemes is to unearth new talent and link skilled people up with hiring managers. The long term goal is to normalise career breaks so that people who take them are no longer penalised in terms of progression.

How do return to work programmes work?

Generally, a returner programme invites people who have taken a career break to apply for a structured programme. The aim is to update people’s knowledge and build self-assurance while performing a salaried role.

Most provide training, mentoring, networking opportunities and support to gain new skills. There is normally a focus on rebuilding professional confidence as part of coming back to the workplace.

Many returners value the opportunity to access this learning and development, as well as build relationships with other programme members that are at a similar life stage. For a real life case study, find out about Rob’s return to work experience in this article.

Which types of companies offer returner programmes?

Returner schemes are now available in a wide range of sectors, from healthcare to teaching and social work, and specific private sector professions such as finance, media, engineering, construction, project management and technology.

See our returner page for examples of schemes that are currently open for applications. Generally, these are available with large organisations or government bodies where relevant qualifications and experience are important at work.

Who is eligible for a returner programme?

Each return to work scheme will set its own specific criteria, depending on the type of skills and experience they are seeking to attract.

In general, however, you will be eligible if you have previous experience in the company’s field, or transferable skills, and have taken a career break of 1-2 years.

Most returner programmes will set out exactly what they are looking for as part of the application process.

Are return to work programmes just for parents?

No, they are open to anyone who has taken a break of a year or more – including people who made a decision to go freelance or set up a small business. Some returner programmes specifically target people aged 50 or more.

Are there different types of returner programmes?

Some returnships help people prepare to return to work – such as the CIPD’s Steps Ahead programme which provides HR mentors to support you with your CV, job searching and interview practice.

Other programmes offer paid internships with the potential for permanent positions. Some hiring schemes place you straight into a permanent role.

Take a look at the options in your own area of work – each profession offers slightly different approaches, perhaps looking to attract or enhance certain skills. There are different programmes to suit all kinds of requirements.

Will I be expected to work full time?

Every returner programme is different, but most employers recognise that many skilled workers will be seeking flexible working options. That might involve part-time hours, remote working or flexible shifts. Check the specifics of the returner programme if this is of interest to you.

How can I find and apply for return to work schemes?

There are lots of online sources where you can find returnships, including our returner programme jobs page. This lists out open schemes by professional discipline and provides all the details about what the scheme involves, who is eligible and how to apply.

Most programmes will require you to complete an application form detailing your personal details, work history and motivation to join the scheme. Usually you will be considered as a potential member of a group of returners, which means that as well as an interview you may be invited to a group assessment.

Assessment days often involve team exercises, so that the hiring employer can see how you work with others. This may sound daunting, but these days are usually designed to be welcoming and encouraging – they can really help you build confidence about your return to work.

Can return to work schemes reduce the gender pay gap?

All companies with more than 250 employees are required to publish details of mean and median pay for their male and female staff. Since this was introduced, the gender pay gap has reduced – but senior bosses such as the CEO of Aviva still believe progress is too slow.

Research suggests that the gender pay gap for women in their twenties is less than 7%, but widens to 25% for women in their forties. Women also earn less when restarting after a career break. The reduction in earnings is around 2% per year spent out of paid work.

Women also miss out on thousands in their pensions if they take two years off for maternity leave. Those who take a career break and return to work part-time could lose even more from their pension pot when they come to retire – all factors contributing to the gender pension gap.

The aim is for returner schemes to give people a helping hand – either to return to their former career or establish a new one. People supported in this way should be able to access better earnings than they would through traditional routes.

Is a returner programme for me?

The general view is that returner programmes offer a good, supportive route back into work. This article on a returner conference gives a sense of the ways you might gain from the experience.

For more insights, explore ‘What do returner programmes do?’ and ‘Sharing best practice for returner programmes’.

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