What are returner programmes?

Returner programmes are generally aimed at those who have taken a career break of two years or more and aim to help them back to work. We take a look in more detail.

Agile Working

 

Returner programmes are generally aimed at those who have taken a career break of two years or more and aim to help them back to work. While most of the people who have taken part in returner programmes tend to be women who have taken a break to look after children, there are also a number of men on the programmes and the reasons for taking a break range from childcare and elder care to travelling and sickness.

A recent report by Executive Coaching Consultancy, Bringing talent back to the workforce, looks at the different types of returner programmes and provides some case studies.

Changing sectors

The majority of returners went back to work in a different function before taking a career break, with 38% changing industry sector. Some 59% said their current job offers more flexibility than the one they had prior to taking a career break.

Geraldine Gallacher from the Executive Coaching Consultancy says it is important to establish best practice in returner programmes. She sees some dangers in employers jumping on the bandwagon of returner programmes without an underpinning of data on what works.

For instance, they might think that returners are an easy way of getting more women into an organisation without having to worry about flexible working because their children are older. That is not the case, though, she says. Parents of older children may still need flexibility and there may be other reasons, such as caring for older parents, that mean flexible working is still vital.

Another concern is that the type of work a returner gets on a short-term trial might be very project-based and not be the equivalent of what they would do if they had a “proper” job.

The report details the three main types of returner programmes and their pluses and minuses:

The returner conference/seminar

This was good for helping returners decide if a return to work was right for them, providing interview skills, giving employers an idea of the talent on offer, raising the employer’s profile as part of a corporate social responsibility issue and creating a talent pool of ready returners.

However, it was less good for gaining firm commitments from line managers to support this population in general and focused recruitment activity if used alone.

The temporary work placement

This was good for creating a structured approach to identifying returners; assessing whether the fit is right without the employer having to make a permanent commitment upfront; developing skills and confidence in the workplace; and cohort support.

It was less good for organisations where line managers have yet to be convinced of the value of supporting returners, where it can be easy to go along with a centrally funded ‘scheme’ for a few months without truly committing to them; line managers who do not understand and cannot support the unique needs of returners, particularly flexibility; and returners who have had to make arrangements for childcare or other responsibilities, which may be disrupted again if a permanent job isn’t secured at the end of the placement.

Direct entry / permanent roles

These were good for allowing adequate time for returners to adapt, thrive and perform successfully; securing commitment from line managers from the outset; helping returners to feel fully accepted and integrated into the organisation and to not feel temporary and ‘on trial’; giving the returner a fair opportunity to contribute against realistic responsibilities and accountabilities; allowing the returner a realistic length of time to settle back in; helping a returner to fully commit and make permanent caring arrangements for their family, if necessary; and demonstrating the organisation’s family friendly credentials to the wider workforce.

They were less good for organisations who were at the beginning of the returner journey as hiring for permanent roles without an initiative to engage managers could prove difficult and for organisations that haven’t considered what support a returner might need to minimise the risk of them leaving.

The report says things to consider for employers include recognising the need for specific support for returners, choosing a programme that is right for the organisation, offering flexible working and educating and supporting managers.



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