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Government to fund STEM return-to-work programme
Government-backed initiative aims to help parents and carers return to careers in science, technology, engineering and maths after a break from work
Women Returners and STEM Returners will receive a £150,000 fund from the Government Equality Hub to help people who have left the technology sector return to work.
The two organisations have together launched a pilot programme to support 100 people coming back to the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) sectors after a career break.
Natalie Desty, director of STEM Returners, said: “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 benefit their employers.”
Data from Tech Returners last year found that 56% of mid-level women in tech who take a break from their career choose not to come back to the sector, highlighting one of the reasons for the lack of women at higher levels in tech companies.
The pandemic also shone a light on how difficult it is for parents and carers to balance working with looking after dependents, while also highlighting that those shouldering parental and carer responsibilities are more often women.
The free 18-month programme, dubbed STEM ReCharge, aims to help parents and carers in the midlands and the north of England with previous tech or engineering experience gain the confidence and skills needed to return to the workplace after a year or more away from work.
Participants will receive career coaching and skills training aimed specifically at people coming back to the workplace after a career break, helping them to overcome some of the challenges faced by those who have taken time away from the workplace. Women Returners and STEM Returners highlighted that people who have spent time away from work often suffer from a drop in work-related confidence and face discrimination during the hiring process because of CV gaps.
As part of a week-long “ReFresh” process, returners will be mentored by industry experts, given access to tech or engineering skills sessions to update their knowledge, helped with CV updates and interview coaching, and encouraged to build a personal network of people in a similar situation to them.
They will also receive ongoing support as they try to find work and rejoin the industry.
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Much like technology jobs in general, efforts to help people return to work appear to be disproportionately centred around London and the south. The midlands and northern England are being targeted for this initiative due to the lack of programmes in these regions.
Women Returners and STEM Returners found there were an average of 7.8 return-to-work programmes per million people in London and 5.3 in the south-west in the past two years, versus an average of 1.6 in the midlands, 2.3 in the north-east and 2.5 in the north-west.
Julianne Miles, CEO of Women Returners, said: “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.”
The technology sector in the UK is currently suffering from a skills gap, leaving companies fishing the same talent pools for skilled workers. Meanwhile, a recent government survey suggested around 75,000 people with STEM skills would like to return to work but are currently “economically inactive” and have been for at least a year due to care responsibilities.
As well as individuals looking to come back to work, the initiative will support 30 STEM-based businesses to recruit returning talent and create a more inclusive recruitment and onboarding process that caters to people who have taken a career break.