Programme designed to help ‘talented but overlooked’ people

Professional services firm PwC is the latest in a line of employers to launch a returnship programme to help people back into work after an extended break.

The 12-week scheme ‘Back to Business’ is open to all applicants, however, it is predominately aimed at women wishing to return to work.

Under the PwC scheme, participants will receive a week-long induction with training, which will cover both the firm’s processes and procedures, including IT and softer skills such as personal brand, resilience, and networking. People on the programme will also have the opportunity to work on client-facing projects that draw on their experience and existing knowledge.

PwC said it hopes the scheme will improve diversity at the firm and strengthen their pipeline of female future leaders.

Already popular in the USA, returnships, are becoming more common in the UK. Finance firm Credit Suisse launched a 10-week programme aimed at returning workers last April, and fellow finance sector company Morgan Stanley ran a 12-week returnship last September, which is running again this year.

Gaenor Bagley, head of people at PwC, said: “Many women who have had time out of the workplace to raise a family may feel that they are being overlooked by recruiters due to the gap in their CV. Our programme is designed to address people’s experience gap and provide another route to get talented people back into the workplace.”

Returnship programmes were recommended by Project 28 - 40, a piece of research commissioned by Opportunity Now and conducted by PwC last year. It found that many women on career breaks wanted to return to work but were worried about their progression prospects (56 per cent) and being barred from the best opportunities (51 per cent).

A recent study by WorkingMums.co.uk revealed similar results. Just under half (48 per cent) of the 2,300-plus mothers surveyed said they had been unable to find a job in their field after taking time out, despite 61 per cent of those reporting that they enjoyed work so much that they would continue to do so even if money wasn’t an issue.

Gillian Nissim, founder of Workingmums.co.uk, said: “Many mums struggle to get back to work after taking a career break which means retention is a win-win for both mums and employers. Interestingly, there has been an increased focus on women returners in the last year with several organisations having launched their own returner programmes to help support women back to work. They argue that many women have years of experience and represent a huge and often overlooked talent pool. Far from the stereotype, they are also often highly motivated.”

Women’s fears about being frozen out of the best career routes are not unfounded, with research from the Equality and Human Rights Commission suggesting that more than 50,000 new mothers are forced out of work every year, with 11 per cent reporting that they have been either shut out at work or treated so poorly that leaving was their only option.