Returnship schemes require a ‘shift in thinking’, expert warns

29 Aug 2017 By Marianne Calnan

Four public sector programmes to offer 450 places for workers who have taken career breaks

The government’s new public sector returnship programme is unlikely to succeed unless the employers involved think carefully about their new talents’ needs, an HR expert has warned.

The Government Equalities Office (GEO) yesterday announced four new returner schemes across the public sector, comprised of 100 social worker places, 300 allied health professional vacancies and 50 civil servant roles.

The initiative forms part of the £5m returnship plans announced in March’s budget and is designed to help employees who are returning to work following a career break improve their skills.

“Millions of us need to take time out from our careers, but it can be really hard to return,” said Anne Milton, minister for apprenticeships, skills and women. “This is bad for the people affected, and the businesses who miss out on their talents. Women in particular find the routes back into employment closed off after taking time out to start a family.”

However, Katerina Rudiger, chief community officer at the CIPD, warned that taking on returning talent would require employers to think differently.

“It’s a huge quest for the labour market and employers to recruit those who can and want to return to work – the programmes will tap into a wider talent pool, which means thinking will need to be shifted to get these candidates engaged in the workplace,” she said. “One aspect would be flexible working and autonomy in the employee’s role.”

Rudiger added the organisations involved must focus on building up returners’ skills if the scheme is to be a success.

“Returners will need additional skills training, help with CV writing, and a boost in interview skills,” she said. “They need plenty of support to make sure they’re work ready – especially those who have been out of the labour market for an extended period.”

Alongside the launch of the returnship programmes, the GEO is seeking feedback from individuals and employers on how best to support people returning to work, particularly within the private sector. The call for evidence will close on 29 October. 

The GEO will also work with the Department for Education to explore a returner programme for teachers.

A study from CV-Library, published in June, found almost a third (32 per cent) of workers have taken a career break. The research also found around three-quarters (73 per cent) of the 1,200 respondents thought it was difficult to get back on the corporate ladder after a career break.

Some organisations already run their own returnship schemes. Consultancy giant PwC has a 12-week scheme, called ‘Back to business’, which is open to all applicants but is predominately aimed at women wishing to return to work. Participants receive a week-long induction with training covering both the firm’s processes and a range of softer skills, along with opportunities to work on client-facing projects that draw on their experience and existing knowledge.

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