A webinar last week sponsored by construction firm Morgan Sindall Infrastructure gave some practical advice to those looking to return to work after a significant career break.
Many older workers have taken a significant career break during their working lives for any number of reasons, including caring responsibilities and health issues. A WMPeople.co.uk webinar last week, sponsored by Morgan Sindall Infrastructure, aimed to boost returners’ confidence and give them advice, support and practical options for getting back to work.
Executive Career, Leadership and Team Coach Stephanie Rix, who is on the board of Women Returners, said the process of beginning to think about returning can be overwhelming and many people don’t know where to start. She added that they often think about all the barriers and jump ahead of themselves too quickly. She advised taking time to explore options.
She added that it is important to think about your strengths. Many resources exist to help with this and people can ask friends or former colleagues as well as take psychometric tests, many of which are freely available online. She said it is important to also think about what energises you because there is a strong correlation between that and your strengths. Another important issue to think about is your values – what is important to you, be that challenge, security or something else. There are also online resources to help with this. Lastly, focus on what interests you at work and jot down a list of words and themes that can guide you.
For Rix, it is important to have a mindset of continuous learning and ‘realistic optimism’ – one that understands the challenges you face and seeks to take action to overcome them. A key barrier is a belief in yourself, she added, counselling that it can be a good idea to take a stepping stone approach rather than thinking you have to jump straight into the role you want. Network groups, such as Women Returners for women or Brave Starts which helps with career change, can also help to keep you motivated.
Asked about the common challenges returners face, Rix said how to cover cv gaps and finding a supportive network were the key ones. Instead of blanket applying to jobs, she said it was better to adopt a people first strategy, talking to as many people as possible in the area you want to work in and broadening your network. Returner programmes run by individual employers can help with the cv gap, but it is also important, said Rix, to put your skills at the top of your cv, above your career history.
She said returning to work involves trade-offs and she added that many people put psychological barriers in the way by focusing on negative what ifs, such as what if I can’t work part time. She suggested flipping those what ifs and making them more positive – for instance, what if you can be more resilient or resourceful. That forces you to think of the practical things you can do to enable your return.
For those who want to change sector, Rix advises putting yourself in the employer’s shoes and asking what they are looking for and how you can add value. She said LinkedIn is an important tool for immersing yourself in the sector, linking up with people and sharing relevant articles. LinkedIn can be used to message people in the sector who might help with advice. Writing a list of people who can help and asking for support is also important.
Rix was followed by Natalie Conroy, HR Coordinator at Morgan Sindall Infrastructure, who spoke about Morgan Sindall’s Re-Connect programme for returners and about how the salary offered is based on skills and experience and benchmarked against peers in the business.
Linda Pritchard was one of the first cohort of Morgan Sindall’s returner programme back in 2018. She had a degree in civil engineering and had worked in construction until she had her children and found it too much of a struggle to balance work and travelling from site to site with having a family. After a while as a stay-at-home mum, however, she felt the need for mental stimulation and to earn some money. She worked part time in Morrisons at the weekends, but hardly saw her husband so she retrained as a maths teacher. Then her husband was offered a job in Spain so the family moved there and Linda learned Spanish.
Around four years later, the family returned to the UK and Linda became a single mum so she took a job working in accounts. By then her children were older and she started looking at how to return to engineering. It had been 18 years, however. Through Google, she found the Morgan Sindall programme, which was then three months long [it is now six months] and applied. It was a risk, but she wanted to progress and felt she couldn’t do so in the job she was in. In her application she emphasised her skills, including her ability to learn new things.
Linda got a job working on HS2 and spoke about how proud she was of herself and how Morgan Sindall had supported her. “I felt I was a real person, not someone’s mum, but also an engineer on HS2. What is special about Morgan Sindall is that you feel a part of the team and it builds your confidence,” she said. She also praised Morgan Sindall’s buddy system, their focus on wellbeing and their approach to flexible working.
She has been working mainly from home for the last two years and is now working on a project that involves digging a tunnel under the Thames. She stressed how good it felt to be working in a company that treated her as an equal from the start despite the fact that she had taken 18 years out.
Sarah Haywood, Leadership and Organisational Development Manager, outlined Morgan Sindall’s returner programme and its workshops and virtual sessions on confidence, adaptability, connection and motivation. She said the programme built a strong cohort who could offer each other support and said that each participant got access to three one-to-one sessions with an external coach during the six-month period.
Natalie Conroy outlined where there were openings at Morgan Sindall Infrastructure – in jobs ranging from project management and quantity surveying to design engineers and some support functions. Anyone interested can fill in a form, giving their details and ideal location. They will then be shortlisted for interview – and receive support with the interview process. Successful candidates will get a six-month contract with a view to securing a permanent position after the programme.
*To apply for the Re-Connect programme click here.