In 2016 FDM Group, a professional services company with a focus on IT, launched its Getting Back to Business returners programme in its London Academy. With almost 70 people in the programme, which is also available in Hong Kong and Glasgow, and will be rolled out in Leeds in early 2018, this article reflects on what the organisation has learned about returners in the last year and why the tech sector should embrace this untapped talent pool.
Over 90% of employers have struggled to recruit workers with the necessary skills in the last year according to the Open University Business Barometer, add into this the potential fallout from Brexit and it looks like it could get worse.
So what’s the answer? Typically, FDM Group focus on how it can encourage more people, women in particular, into tech. There is also a focus on school leavers and university students and while this is absolutely essential, it’s not the only thing that can be done. The tech sector has to think differently and introduce talented people more quickly.
This is where returners play their part. There is an untapped talent pool of over 500,000 professional women in the UK who are on an extended career break and who want to come back to work. There is also a pool of male returners.
If the career break penalty is addressed, the UK economy could be boosted by £1.7 billion and just as importantly this could help introduce high quality, low risk individuals that have already proven themselves previously in business to help fill skills gaps.
FDM Group’s experience has shown that there is no template for a returner; they come from all walks of life and with different stories. However, they have two things in common, they are all professionals in their own right, men and women, and they have all taken planned time out of the work environment for a year or more. The reasons for the break vary from having children, to being carers for family members, relocating with their partners or taking some time out to do something they’re passionate about.
Equally, there’s no time for a gap, it can be from one year to five years. FDM Group have had people who have taken 10, 15 and 16 years away from work and are now successfully working again, enjoying their professional life and adding great value to their teams.
Most returners have degrees or professional qualifications and certifications, and many also have Masters, MBA or PhD level qualifications. Ages vary too, 64% of our returners are aged between 35-49.
So why aren’t employers rushing to embrace this talent? The main blockage appears to the gap on a CV, returners do not fit the traditional hiring profile. Having worked with returners for over a year now, these people have often been overlooked for roles because their profile did not fulfil that expected by recruiters. There are stories that returners are seen as a risk – one that recruiters are not prepared to take.
Many returners are advised to hide their career gap and not to mention the fact that they have not been in formal employment. Employers are missing the trick if they limit the recruitment pool in this way.
Returners are professionals who happen to have taken a legitimate break. The tech sector needs to change its attitudes and embrace the experience that returners bring not only through their previous working roles, but also through the experience gained during their break. Many return with transferable skills learned while being a school Governor, undertaking voluntary work with charities and so on.
But it’s not just managers who say no, so do computers; electronic CV or application readers cannot decipher a gap on a CV which means that returners get removed from the selection process at the start. This makes it impossible for a returner to get their foot through the door to demonstrate their experience and as a result companies miss out on seeing a diverse cross section of talented professionals who could add real value to their business.
Being constantly rejected wears down a returner’s professional confidence. Their job searches begin well enough but not hearing back, being told they don’t have the necessary skills, that they pose a risk, they may leave again to take another break and so on, takes its toll. They begin to feel irrelevant, that their skills are outdated and are often at a loss as to how to break down these barriers and get employers to look beyond the gap at their previous experience and their transferable skills. This is where many find returner programmes helpful.
There has been a dramatic increase in the number of returner programmes created by employers in the UK in recent years. The type of programmes on offer is varied; ones that provide training to refresh skills, returnships, where people are offered opportunities to build relevant experience which then boosts their CV, and returner programmes, which combine training with opportunity for employment once the training has been successfully completed.
The central elements of these programmes that many returners find most useful is the focus on soft skills, professional skills and rebuilding of their confidence. The programmes remind them of what they once did and empower them to go out and do it again.
The overall consensus is that returners are often exceptional individuals who are hungry to re-establish their careers; they are committed, self-motivated and focused. They know what they want, despite the confidence set back. Most returners want to re-enter the roles they did previously, however, others want to transfer their skills and move into a new field. Responses from our clients to our returners has been extremely positive as they realise the valuable experience these people introduce into their organisation.
If businesses want to plug their skills gap they need to think differently. Diversity, which is what this article is really discussing, isn’t just a buzzword, it’s a real business opportunity.
If organisations can develop a diverse culture, they will find that their talent pool will suddenly become much wider. If you’re looking to recruit returners specifically, FDM Group’s advice is to look beyond the break they’ve taken and let them tell you their story.
Returners can help plug the skills gaps, introduce highly committed, self-motivated talented people and help create greater diversity in teams, bringing different perspectives together to improve innovation and problem solving.
Sourced by Sheila Flavell, chief operating officer, FDM Group