- Don’t call it a comeback; it’s a returnship. Across the pond, Skanska UK has created a program for those who’ve taken a career break — voluntarily or no — and look to return to science-, technology-, engineering- or math-related jobs.
- The fully paid, 12-week program helps candidates re-integrate into a work environment, Skanska said in a release, and the contractor may offer participants a job at the end of the program.
- Nearly 90% of those who’ve taken a hiatus don’t do so out of personal choice, according to research by U.K.-based STEM Returners, with whom Skanska partnered to create the program. Some have taken sabbaticals or breaks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and a large number of women and some men leave STEM jobs each year for childcare reasons.
Launched in 2017, the organization has helped 260 candidates join programs across the U.K., said Natalie Desty, director of STEM Returners. Since then, 96% of Returners have secured a permanent position with their host company.
The program’s goals include increasing the number of mid-senior career engineers as well as the number of women and minority engineers.
Return-to-work programs aren’t completely novel. Amazon launched a returnship program in June 2021, in partnership with nonprofit Path Forward. The 16-week-long program provided potential employees with a virtual opportunity to explore reintegration into the workforce. At the time, Amazon predicted that three in four of the returning workers would be women.
Indeed, Schneider Electric Global followed in the footsteps of Amazon — and Microsoft, Goldman Sachs and more — with a six-month program where eight women returned to work after decade-long hiatuses, in some cases.
Yet, the Great Resignation has seen large numbers of workers exit fields like construction in search of jobs that provide more flexibility. So why return?
“There are various reasons why people want to return — some have not been out of work very long and want to return quickly, while others may have had a break to care for young children and they may have now grown up,” Desty said.
The rising cost of living also contributes increasingly to returning to work, Desty added.
The problem is getting worse, Desty said, as COVID-19 provided a catalyst to take a career break for some, as others relocated or found themselves made redundant. Nevertheless, most in STEM don’t see their skills deteriorate.
“The reality is that many people on a career break keep themselves up to date with their industry,” Desty said. “Industry leaders need to do more to update recruitment practices and challenge unconscious bias to help those who are finding it challenging to return to the sector and improve diversity and inclusion within their organizations.”