Optimistic prospects for returners post Covid-19

As restrictions ease, more job opportunities are opening up for returners. 

Welcome Note with Hand Sanitizer and Mask on Work Keyboard, Return to Workplace Pandemic


When Covid-19 first hit and closed down offices, many companies halted programmes and recruitment processes for returners – people who have taken a career break, often due to caring responsibilities – as they were trying to navigate the new reality.

However, the hiatus did not last long, with some shifting their programmes online, which allowed more people to join since there was no location boundary.

“The first six months were tough because everybody stopped recruiting. But after that, it’s actually been a very positive message because everybody’s much more open to flexible working and remote work from home. So in our experience it has created more opportunity rather than less,” says Lisa Unwin, author of She’s Back: Your Guide to Returning to Work and co-founder and director of the Reignite Academy for those from a legal background.

But, as businesses start entering post-Covid-19 working dynamics, what does the situation look like for returners?

Unwin is optimistic about the jobs prospect for returners, in part because of skill shortages. “It has actually got even better now because, after having no recruitment for six to nine months. There’s a lot of pent up demand,” she explains. “We’re working with a number of insurance companies, for example, and they are struggling to find the right talent. So they’re more open to looking at alternative sources.”

At the moment, there are many returner programmes available in different sectors that returners can benefit from. workingmums.co.uk works with various organisations to promote their programmes. At the moment, Capgemini, UBS and FDM Group are amongst the companies actively recruiting for different positions.

Typically, these programmes last between three to six months with the opportunity of being offered a permanent job within the company. But, they also help returners to boost their confidence, working on reviving some of the skills they might not have used during their break. Particularly in areas that are male-dominated, these programmes try to attract female candidates where there is usually a lack of representation in more senior jobs.

Normalising career breaks and the benefits of hiring a returner

For Unwin, however, the next necessary step is to destigmatise and normalise career breaks as a whole. “Breaks are quite a normal part in many people’s careers […] And I think we need to get away from this being about a working mums issue, for example. Men have career breaks as well, and women who are not mums do too. I think it needs to be recognised that this is a mainstream issue,” she says.

Normalising career breaks also means encouraging employers to look at someone’s CV differently. “The main struggle is to get people to recognise that you’re not just as good as your last job, which is what people do when reading a CV. Typically they look at your last job or the job you’re in now and they essentially base it on that, but it might be that your most relevant experience was five years ago, ” says Unwin. Then, she adds: “So, people need to read CVs differently, accept that people’s careers don’t go in straight lines and be aware of that when they’re interviewing somebody or when they’re looking at someone’s CV.”

Another misconception for returners themselves is that they have not progressed since their last job. Unwin explains: “If you have taken a step back and everybody else you used to work with stayed, then you feel different and by feeling different you might assume there are more barriers than there actually are.”

In reality during their career break, they most likely have still learnt new skills in different areas which can be useful in a working environment. Unwin suggest that, by looking after someone else whether they are children or elderly people, you can learn a lot about time management, pressure, leadership and communication. All are great skills to have for any job position.

It is also important for employers to understand that taking a career break does not equal a lack of motivation or commitment. On the contrary, according to Unwin. “Returners are very motivated and really willing to work hard and they’re not just moving jobs to get a pay rise,” she states.

“They bring back enthusiasm, motivation, energy, but also those skills learnt outside of the workplace. Plus, they’ll bring back all the networks that they built when they were in work, which is often very beneficial for an employer as well,” says Unwin.

Advice for returners and how employers can support them

Despite returner programmes being a valuable opportunity for employees after a career break, they are not the only option. “There are lots of things you can do to find your own job, which I would always encourage people to do. Don’t just wait for a programme and don’t be disheartened if you don’t get on the programme. There are other ways of getting work,” says Unwin adding: “You need to get yourself out there and use your network.”

Some companies offer webinars to attract returners and offer advice. Last March, Capgemini organised one with workingmums.co.uk to help those who were looking to get back to work in a post-pandemic world.

Other companies offer “evergreen returner roles” – continuous recruitment for workers who took a break – and people can apply to these roles without having to necessarily go through a returner programme.

It is also crucial for returners to believe in themselves and their capabilities as well as for employers to create a supportive environment with managers who want them to succeed. Unwin’s recommendation to employers hiring a returner is to “make sure they’re working for someone who believes in them and is willing to support them, coach them and give them feedback and then make sure they get the right work to build their confidence, because they get their experience back by doing work”.

She adds: “You can’t hire somebody back and then not allocate them the appropriate work, so I’d say the main three things are to be open-minded, recognising that returners have talent, give them the line manager who wants them to succeed and make sure they get the right work.”

*More information on best practice can be found here. WM People is holding an employer roundtable on best practice for returners on 21st September. Contact [email protected] if you are interested in taking part or receiving the white paper on the event.

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