Return to work experts Women Returners and STEM Returners have received UK Government funding to support parents and carers in the Midlands and the North of England back into STEM careers, tackling the huge challenges returners face in the open job market.
Women Returners, in partnership with STEM Returners and funded by the Government Equality Hub, will deliver the STEM ReCharge pilot over the next 18 months. The initiative will provide free-of-charge return to work career coaching, job skills training and sector-specific upskilling and mentoring to 100 returners with tech or engineering experience who have taken career breaks over a year or more.
Parents and carers typically face an uphill battle when trying to return to professional-level work, with a range of challenges from reduced professional self-confidence to widespread recruiter bias against people without recent experience.
The STEM ReCharge career coaching and job skills training will address these practical and psychological barriers, providing support to rebuild confidence, balance work and caring, write a back to work CV and hone interview skills. Small group sessions will encourage motivating return-to-work support networks.
Participants will also benefit from 1:1 mentoring, a tech or engineering ReFresh Week with updating sessions from industry experts to prepare them for interviews, and ongoing support with finding suitable work opportunities and reintegrating into the workforce.
The programme will also provide free training and support for 30 STEM employers in the regions, to enable them to better recruit and retain this talent pool who are so often overlooked.
Employer training sessions will aim to improve recruitment processes and the onboarding experience for returners and will inform about best practice in creating inclusive returner programmes. Employer engagement events will take place in hub cities including Birmingham and Leeds in late April for local organisations to find out more about the training and learn from the experience of successful returner employers.
STEM ReCharge is being targeted at the West and East Midlands, the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber and the North West, after new analysis carried out by Women Returners and STEM Returners showed these areas have far fewer returner programmes than southern areas. From 2020 to 2022 there were 1.6 returner programmes per million people in the Midlands, 2.3 programmes in the North East and Yorkshire and 2.5 programmes in the North West, compared with 7.8 programmes in London and 5.3 programmes in the South West.
The Government Equality Hub estimates there are currently 75,000 people (the majority women) who are economically inactive due to caring responsibilities, who have not worked for at least 12 months, who had a STEM occupation before their career break and who would like to return to work in the future. There are many more STEM professionals working at a lower skill level around their family, who will also be eligible to benefit from the programme.
Women Returners and STEM Returners are the two leading organisations in the UK in STEM returner programmes and supportive returner network communities. More than 600 experienced STEM professionals have returned to work through their returner programmes.
Julianne Miles, CEO of Women Returners, said: “We are thrilled to be partnering with the Government Equality Hub and STEM Returners to launch the innovative STEM ReCharge programme in the Midlands and the North of England.
“There is a pressing need in these regions to provide this job-readiness support tailored to parents and carers returning to STEM, together with training for STEM employers to create more supported routes back to work for career returners. We’re confident that this comprehensive programme of support will help to accelerate the removal of the career break penalty in the UK.”
Natalie Desty, Director of STEM Returners, said: “We are delighted to be supporting the Government Equality Hub in increasing the opportunity for returners in STEM and lowering the barriers they face when they try to resume their careers.
“There is a perception that a career break automatically leads to a deterioration of skills. But the reality is, that many people on a career break keep themselves up to date with their industry, can refresh their skills easily when back in work and have developed new transferable skills that would actually benefit their employers.
“This programme will allow us to continue our mission to help create a diverse, inclusive and equitable STEM sector. We are especially delighted to be collaborating on this project with Women Returners, as working together we can achieve more.”
On launch of the initiative, Minister for Women and Equalities, and Secretary of State for Business and Trade, Kemi Badenoch MP, said: “I learned how to code at the age of seven and trained as an engineer, so I know the importance of science to our economy.
“In the last decade we have seen more girls studying STEM subjects at school and university, but we know that too many women later drop out of those careers because they need to care for children or elderly relatives.
“We are investing in returners so we can plug the STEM gap, increase workplace equality, and boost our economy. That’s good business sense.”
Minister for Women, Maria Caulfield MP, said: “STEM jobs make up a large proportion of our economy, but there is a shortage in STEM employees and 75,000 STEM returners who want to get back to work. We know there are women across the country who have left their jobs to care for elderly relatives or children, and want to return to work.