Why returners need targeted support

People who are looking to get back to work after career breaks need targeted help and the right infrastructural support.

Coffee cup in front of a computer with welcome back written on a post it note


It’s a hugely unstable time and for those trying to get back into the workplace after a sustained period out it can be very challenging. Returning to work is not a nice to have for many people. The cost of living crisis in addition to personal changes of circumstances dictate that many desperately need to get back to work.

The good news is that there is a still a labour shortage in many sectors, but are those jobs and the skills sought a match for those wanting to get back to work?  The other good news is that labour shortages have built a stronger case for greater investment in upskilling the existing workforce, building career paths and retraining people to do the jobs where there are or will be shortages in the future. That may mean starting at a slightly lower rung, but with a view to longer down the line. And the pandemic has brought evidence that flexible working does not hamper productivity and that our increasingly complex lives, often driven by cuts elsewhere, and an ageing workforce mean that demand for it will only increase.

What’s more, more and more employers are casting their net more widely and several now have returner programmes that recognise the challenges people have coming back to work after a break and that this is going to be more ad more the norm as the workforce ages and we have to work for longer. That’s certainly the message that came through loud and clear from Women Returners’ annual conference last week.

Yet the number of returner programmes, although it has risen significantly since the early days when programmes seemed to be mainly confined to the financial services sector, is still small. Nevertheless, even if an employer takes on one or two returners, those one or two can make the case for a more general change in mindset about returners, showing that not only do they have all the skills from their previous career, but also those gained from their break as well as a different perspective on how things might be done.

What needs to change are things like automated hiring processes which throw out anyone with a career break. There needs to be greater awareness still of the value returners can bring to businesses and the need for the kind of challenges they face, mainly related to confidence. That means reaching out and providing support Рin returner programmes returner cohorts and talks by former returners are vital as are buddies or mentors. workingmums.co.uk has spoken to many, many returners over the years and most say that those confidence issues go almost as soon as they are back in the job.

Government can help too by making the case for hiring returners and by targeted support, for instance, the Restart programme could be broadened to embrace the different needs and challenges of a multigenerational workforce. And, of course, we need the basic infrastructure in place in terms of care support to enable people to get back to work and to stop many of them leaving in the first place.

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