A recent report by the Women and Work All Party Parliamentary Group recommended that “employers with 250 or more employees should consider putting in place paid returner programmes or returnships with guaranteed training, advice, and support”.
A returnship is effectively a period of short-term employment, often around 3 months. The individual is given a commercial assignment (i.e. real work) as these are experienced people who used to work (they have just taken a gap, perhaps to raise children or look after a disabled or elderly relative) and so are not comparable to those on, say, a work experience or graduate programme. In addition to having actual work, they are also given training to get them back up to speed with developments that might have occurred during their career break and mentoring to help them integrate confidently back into the workplace and develop their network and professional relationships. Often there are opportunities for permanent recruitment at the end of the programme.
With encouragement to introduce a returners programme, employers will want to think carefully about the employment law issues that might arise, for example, that men should not be discriminated against (as often returner schemes appear to be targeted at women), flexible working might need to be offered from the outset to attract quality candidates as some may still require a degree of flexibility (and the statutory right only kicks in after 26 weeks of service) and age discrimination issues should be borne in mind (as the returner may be older).
When Ines Faden started her work placement she was given a mentor to guide her through those tricky first weeks and sent to workshops to boost her confidence and brush up her technology skills. After three months, her enthusiasm and commitment was rewarded with a permanent position in the company. Faden isn’t a twentysomething taking her first step on the career ladder, however, but a middle-aged mother-of-two with a successful 20-year career in investment banking already under her belt. And her placement wasn’t a graduate traineeship but a “returnship”: a paid position aimed at bringing women like her - who were once senior in the workplace but have taken significant breaks to raise children or care for elderly relatives - back into employment.