Q&A: Helping men and women return to work

Q&A: Helping men and women return to work

Q: I have read that returnships are a popular way for employers to encourage parents or carers back into the workforce following a career break. How can my business make returnships a success? 

A: Returnships were originally an American concept that focused companies on helping older workers, mainly women, return to work after career breaks. They have been introduced in the UK over the past few years and came to most people’s attention when the Women and Work All-Party Parliamentary Group launched a call for more employers to offer them. In the 2017 Budget, the government announced that an investment of £5m would be available to employers to increase the number of returnships on offer. However, they still might be under the radar for many employers. 

They are generally short-term periods of work experience that offer training and practise for those who have had a break during their career. Those who have had time off will generally require more support and training. Employers should factor this in to their returnship plans and most will offer a buddy system where the returner is paired with a previous returner or a mentor from the same department. A buddy system will help the returner build their confidence while allowing them to create office relationships and network with others. The buddy will also provide a forum for discussion and the returner can ask questions on an informal basis.  

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A major hurdle for most returners will be changes to technology and software during their absence. As soon as possible in the early stages of their returnship, training should be provided to ensure the returner is in the best position to succeed in getting to grips with current technology. Soft skills, such as managing conflict and communication, will also decrease over time, so training opportunities can also be offered for these too. 

While returnships are commonly thought of as applying to women with childcare responsibilities, about a third of the working age population has taken a career break. Reasons can include travel and education, while some men take leave in order to be carers too. Employers should recognise that returnships are a useful tool for men who have had a career break, not just women. Simply advertising a returnship for female candidates will be discrimination on the grounds of gender, as will having a policy to only select women to interview for a role. 

The aim of returnships is to make the returner more employable at the end of the experience. Some employers will offer all their returners jobs, but some will not. Employers might wish to consider the type of employment they are offering and discuss any potential positions with the returner to create a role that works for both parties; jobs that offer flexibility or home working can help those who have ongoing personal commitments whereas others may wish to return full-time. 

Peter Done is managing director of law firm Peninsula