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David Clift


HR Director

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Why you should be offering returnships to career-breakers – and how to get started


If you haven’t heard of a returnship, you are not alone. Totaljobs’ latest survey results found that a staggering 85% of employers aren’t aware of back-to-work schemes, which is rather surprising given the positive response from employees.

Of the candidates we spoke to, three in four revealed they would consider a returnship programme after a break from the workplace, suggesting supply isn’t necessarily keeping up with interest.

With just 4% of employers offering these opportunities to workforce returners, we’ve created a useful guide to share the various benefits of returnship programmes so that employers can learn more about providing effective routes back into the workplace.  

What are returnships?

A returnship is a high-level internship opportunity to assist professionals who might be looking to re-enter the workplace or are seeking a new career path entirely. Following extended career breaks, returnships enable anyone to get back to work, often mums who have been out of the workforce focusing on their children. Employers also stand to benefit from the increased opportunities to tap into an under-utilised talent pool.

It’s also worth knowing that most returnship programmes are paid, typically last between 3-6 months on a more interim basis and are targeted at returning mums. This is mainly due to the nature of the work, as many will be drawing on prior work experience and contributing valuable existing skills within their new role.

Why are returnships important?

These schemes offer many major benefits to the wider economy and UK businesses more generally. By encouraging people to return to work following a career break, it’s a positive step towards incorporating highly qualified and skilled candidates back into organisations.

Totaljobs research shows just 15% of UK employers have heard of the returnships concept.

Returnships also help to support existing staff and establish a more diverse team dynamic, through bringing in colleagues from different work backgrounds and life experiences.

How popular are returnships currently?

Returnships are facing a hurdle, not from a lack of popularity or interest, but rather from a lack of awareness. Totaljobs research shows just 15% of UK employers have heard of the returnships concept.

However, one in five employers admitted they were prepared to offer such a programme, which is in line with significant interest shown from the 72% of candidates who would consider participating in a returnship scheme.

What could motivate employers to implement these schemes?

There is clearly scope for employers to significantly increase the number of returnship schemes available to the UK workforce in the near future. It’s possible that organisations are holding back, so we need employers to consider what would make them fully invest in these schemes.

Added incentives from the government might help to improve the number of large organisations offering these opportunities, according to nearly 70% of survey respondents. It would be encouraging to see a government-backed initiative, along the lines of the 2017 Apprenticeship Levy, that establishes a wider interest in returnships.

Why might employers need further education?

There are various benefits for both returners and employers alike, suggesting both parties need further education on this topic in order to reap the full rewards of these opportunities.

With so many employers unaware of the scheme’s existence, a UK-wide education on returnships and the mutual benefits available will help to develop a stronger level of engagement.

It’s vital for employers to ensure the door is open for career-breakers, who can offer a wealth of knowledge and experience based on their previous roles. Educating employers about such opportunities is also a smart way to ensure talented individuals are less likely to slip through the net during the recruitment process.

We want to encourage employers to use their initiative and start putting returnship plans into motion, as attracting and retaining talent is getting harder than ever.

Generating awareness for employees who might consider taking a career break in the future is also beneficial. This means valuable employees already know that the company focuses on a forward-thinking approach to recruitment. In turn, this knowledge could be crucial for companies when retaining talent further down the line.

What do employers need to keep in mind?

Returnships aren’t just beneficial for the returner, but for the business as a whole, as they open a new pool of talented people that may have otherwise been left untapped. They also demonstrate a vote of confidence in the individual, as companies are purposefully choosing to invest in people who might have been absent from corporate life for a substantial period of time.

A returnship offers a new and exciting opportunity for companies to show their support for returners, who are a useful resource that needs to be properly utilised.

How can employers get started?

Employers can begin working on implementing these schemes immediately, by leading the way and tackling this lack of awareness and current underrepresentation in the UK workplace head on. We want to encourage employers to use their initiative and start putting returnship plans into motion, as attracting and retaining talent is getting harder than ever given the current high rate of employment in the UK.

Looking internally at where your business can benefit from skilled and experienced workers is a great place to start. It’s also worth looking further afield to learn how your competitors might already be utilising returnships to see how this could also work for you.

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David Clift

HR Director

Read more from David Clift