What do women want from a returnship? And how can local companies benefit from them?

How do returnships work? What do returners REALLY want after a career break? And how can local companies reap the benefit of a returnship?

We’ve all heard about returnships being offered to get women back into the world of permanent work after prolonged career breaks. But what about returnships for people who want flexibility as well as a fresh and exciting career opportunity?

Flexible and part-time recruitment agency Ten2Two explores the subject of returning to work after a career break.

What is a returnship?

Returnships are programmes designed to help people get their careers back on track after a period away from the industry.

They are usually aimed at people with experience of the profession – often with lots of experience behind them – and they exist to give employees a chance to update their skills whilst proving themselves to a new employer in a supported environment.

There may not be a guaranteed job at the end of this period, but it does allow the employer and employee to test drive each other, with limited pressure for candidates and low risk to the overall business.

Most people seeking a returnship are likely to be doing so after taking a career break to raise children. They may have needed to take time out to juggle everything – but this juggling doesn’t stop once the toddler phase ends.

If anything, the demands of a parent’s time are greater with homework to oversee and taxi services to provide.

What is it that returners actually need?

So what do returners really want? Well, it’s not a long commute for starters. Many female returners still have family commitments that mean a long commute is difficult, if not impossible. And, unfortunately, most current returnships are in the city or for global corporates, and often in specific sectors like financial services.

The real key to getting more women back into the board room, is that magic word: flexibility.

But, of course, simply offering a talented woman flexibility alone isn’t enough. Here’s what the best practice returnship guide for employers says women (and men) are looking for in a returnship programme:

  • Identify and satisfaction – returners say they missed the sense of achievement and social side of working and also wanted to regain their professional identity.
  • Money – while not their key motivator for returning to work, earning their own money (and the intrinsic professional value that’s attached to it) is certainly important.
  • Support – returners value the support a structured returnship programme offers them in returning to the workplace after a long break.
  • The opportunity to refresh skills – it’s easy to lose confidence in your skill set after a prolonged break, or to feel like you’ve been left behind.

How can local businesses benefit from returners?

Returners’ need for flexibility represents a golden opportunity for local small to medium enterprises. With commuting out for many returners, local businesses have the opportunity of recruiting highly experienced women who may not have considered working closer to home before having a child. Nor in a company of that size.

Returnship programmes can also make it easier for local businesses to find and recruit the talent they need. Returnerships allow organisations to assess a returner’s skills, experience and motivation on the job before offering them a permanent role.

And they enable the returners to assess whether the fit and timing is right for them, too. They give both parties the chance to decide the level, salary, flexibility options and type of work that would suit the returner in the longer term.

How can you attract talented returners?

So it’s not just large, London-centric corporations who can make the most of the wealth of talent looking to return to the workplace.

Even if you’re a SME, you can still attract returners by offering them what they need. Which is:

  • Paid work at market rate.
  • Flexible hours.
  • A fixed period of guaranteed work.
  • A structured programme with support.
  • A chance to get back in the door.
  • Possibility of further employment.

How long do returnships last?

Most returnships last between three to six months. If they were any shorter, the returner wouldn’t have the opportunity to get up to speed with your organisation and show what they can do on the job. Nor would the company have long enough to assess whether they were right for a permanent role.

If the programme were longer, it would only increase the uncertainty the returner may feel and the pressure they may be under to prove themselves.

The ideal length of your returner programme will ultimately depend on the complexity of your business or the role, and the decision-making speed of your company. It will also depend on whether your returner is working full or part time.

Not all returnships are poorly paid

There can be a perception that a returnship is poorly paid, but this doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) be the case. Returners are usually highly experienced and, as we know, a key motivator for participating in a returnship is to reclaim their sense of identity. And earning a commensurate salary for their role and level is a important.

This is why initiatives like Ten2Two’s Springboard Programme are important. The programme helps local business (large and small) with their talent search, providing high calibre professionals to fill roles quickly and effortlessly.

The employment programme acts like a returnship but, while most are lowly paid and lead to a full-time role, Ten2Two recognises that this isn’t always what most people who have had a career break actually want.

So instead, the Springboard Programme focuses on matching quality, experienced workers to fulfil a talent shortage via flexibility, support and paid work.

The professional women who participate in the Springboard Programme share a frustration that a career break is stopping them from pursuing their careers. And they usually all have armfuls of experience, degrees and other professional qualifications.

Like riding a bicycle again, the only thing that’s stopping them from succeeding is a lack of opportunity.

These women are also one of the reasons why the gender pay gap exists. If they could keep their careers on track with a little flexibility, Ten2Two believe that we wouldn’t have the diversity problems in business that we do.

Ten2Two is a flexible recruitment agency operating across the south of England. If you’d like help to return to your career, or if you’re a business and you’d like to find out more about recruiting returners, please contact Ten2Two today

Photo by Nadya Glo