In the Spring 2023 Budget, the government announced “Returnerships”, a programme designed to encourage the upskilling and retraining of adults over the age of 50 to persuade them to get back to and continue in work.
The government has also turned its attention to helping individuals who have taken a career break return to work (Returners). It has now published guidance for employers (the Guidance) and a toolkit designed to help employees returning from such a break. The toolkit includes tips for Returners on how to build confidence and negotiate salaries and flexibility, as well as providing resources for job opportunities and training.
The Guidance comes at a time when many businesses are taking steps to reassess and update their policies to align with the post-pandemic working landscape. Now more than ever, Returners are seeking flexibility in their working patterns and the same can be said for a high proportion of the UK workforce in general. This is echoed in new research from LinkedIn, which found that more than 33% of UK workers would consider leaving their job if returning to the office full-time became mandatory. The data also showed that 52% of women had left, or were considering leaving, their jobs due to a lack of flexibility and that the current demand for remote working jobs exceeds the number available in the UK.
The Guidance was produced by the Equality Hub and updates documents originally published by Women Returners and Timewise. It focuses on those who are returning to work following a period of time away to “take on a caring responsibility” and acknowledges that the majority of such Returners are women. However, the Guidance applies equally to those returning to work after a period of absence for other reasons, such as ill health or an earlier “retirement”.
The objective is to both help individual Returners get back into work and to help businesses recruit from a pool of experienced people. The Guidance discusses the barriers Returners face, including recruitment bias, a lack of flexibility, loss of confidence and a loss of sector-specific knowledge. When it comes to flexibility, it urges businesses to consider where, when and how much (e.g. whether full-time or not) they need people to work. Another point highlighted by the Guidance is that, by hiring and supporting Returners, a business can demonstrate that it is “open to non-linear career paths” and that it “values the role that caring plays in society” – a message that can help attract and retain diverse talent.
The Guidance also cites interesting recruitment research, including from Timewise, which recently found that 90% of non-workers want flexible work. Additionally, a study from the Behavioural Insights Team and Indeed found that job adverts received 30% more applications when they were advertised as allowing flexible working (versus those that were silent on that point).
The Guidance suggests several ways employers can support Returners in returning to permanent employment. Such initiatives vary in terms of structure and formality, and can be tailored to any business. Examples of such initiatives include:
- Returnships – fixed-term contracts with the potential for a permanent role at the end (which can be an effective way of facilitating a trial period that benefits both the employer and employee). These should not be confused with the “Returnerships” announced in the Budget as mentioned at the start of this article, which are specific programmes aimed at promoting accelerated apprenticeships, sector-based work academy programme placements and skills bootcamps to the over 50s.
- Supported hiring – permanent roles, with adjustments made to support Returners;
- Return to practice – sector-based training and work experience; and
- Fellowships – supported research and development projects which may also lead to a permanent role.
The Guidance emphasises the importance of businesses spreading awareness of these initiatives internally, whilst also actively supporting line managers who are bringing Returners into their team. Managers should be supported both in terms of training and knowledge-sharing to ensure that the business is taking a holistic approach.
Businesses are being encouraged to actively engage with Returners, seek their perspective and listen to feedback. Support can be provided by allocating buddies, mentors and/or coaches. Businesses should then reflect on any feedback, collect additional evidence and implement reasonable changes suggested by stakeholders.
Finally, the Guidance features a case study from Rachel Dackombe, a Returner Champion at Victoria Plum and part of the CIPD Parent Returner Programme (funded by the Equality Hub). Victoria Plum is an example of a business which has successfully implemented positive change to encourage Returners to work for them, including by advertising flexible working during recruitment and educating their leaders on the advantages of flexible working.
The Guidance highlights the still largely untapped potential for businesses to take advantage of attracting Returners, a fast-growing, diverse and skilled section of the UK working population. Given the increasing demand for flexibility both from Returners and other employees generally, businesses may benefit from implementing programmes such as those proposed in the Guidance. The evidence clearly demonstrates that the wider the variety of jobs, contract types and levels of flexibility offered by a company, the greater the talent pool from which to hire. Therefore, such initiatives should be seen as “a talent attraction strategy and not just a corporate responsibility”.
If you have any questions on any of the points touched on in this blog, or would like advice on implementing any of the programmes discussed above, please reach out to a member of our team.