Building paths back to the workplace

Expert considers advice for bosses on employing career-break returners

Claire Maclean is a counsel in the employment team at Dentons UK and Middle East LLP, based in Scotland.
Claire Maclean is a counsel in the employment team at Dentons UK and Middle East LLP, based in Scotland.

AS part of an initiative announced in the spring budget, the government has released guidance for employers to support those returning to work after a career break.

The aim is to improve the labour supply available to businesses, with a focus on helping those aged 50 to 64, those suffering from long-term sickness, parents and recipients of welfare to return to work.

Why support returners?

Supporting employees returning to the workforce has several benefits to employers, principally giving them better access to a wider talent pool. What better place to look than at a diverse, experienced and underutilised talent pool?

For example, encouraging applications from a broad variety of ages can bring a wealth of experience from a range of sectors, but it is more than a diversity and inclusion initiative – the aim is to encourage employers to use it as a broader strategic recruitment initiative.

Adjustments to the recruitment process

Simple adjustments can be made to the recruitment process to attract returners. Promoting the ability to work flexibly is one. Job adverts offering flexible working are more likely to attract applicants returning to work for the first time after a career break.

The ability to work part-time is particularly likely to attract people returning to work who have ongoing care commitments.

Taking steps to avoid discouraging returners, such as asking about recent work experience, instead of asking about years of experience in a role (where there may have been a gap) is another.  Employers can also specifically advertise particulars jobs as suitable for returners.

Returners programme

The guidance includes specific steps employers can take to support returners by establishing a returners programme. A number of factors are likely to impact on the success of such a programme.

These include getting buy-in from leadership, management and teams; understanding the types of people returning to work and their motivations; and understanding the barriers and enablers for returners.

Other factors are supporting returners with training, coaching and points of contact to address any concerns; offering site visits, practice interviews and career reviews for prospective joiners; gathering insights and making improvements in real time; and assessing programme progress and return on investment.

Returnship contracts

If an employer does decide to run a returners programme, two main recruitment approaches can be adopted.

The employer can hire returners directly into a permanent role, which can work well if the returner in question is able to return to work full-time. Employers would support the direct hire approach with appropriate training and coaching to facilitate a successful long-term return.  

Alternatively, employers may also want to consider a fixed-term contract with a possibility of a permanent role at the end if it goes well for both the employer and returner (a “returnship”). This type of contract provides some flexibility to employers, who can assess returners on a longer-term basis to see if the returner has the necessary skills and experience.

It also allows both the employer and returner to assess the appropriate type and level of work and working pattern. A trial period may assist returners in working out if the timing of return is right for them, and the employer and returner in determining if the organisation or role is a good fit.

Success factors

The government suggests that supporting returners, offering effective training and giving returners broad work opportunities are key to maximising returner satisfaction and running a successful programme. 

A large number of employers are already utilising the returners network to source talent and the government guidance is a good resource to open up this initiative to an even broader range of employers to utilise as a strategic tool for the benefit of returners and businesses.

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