Returner programmes – part of the £5 million fund announced in this year’s Budget – are formal schemes offered by employers to provide training and support to get people who have taken a career break back into work.
Returnships have been gaining traction in the last couple of years, particularly in the banking sector. Schemes range from anything between six to 26 weeks, with the potential for a job at the end, and are mostly offered to women returning from a minimum of two years out.
The four new public sector schemes will cover civil servants, social workers, health professionals and teachers. The Civil Service will launch an initial returner programme for 50 people across the UK this October. Returners will be offered paid placements lasting between six weeks and six months, which will include bespoke learning and development opportunities.
The Local Government Association will build on its Come Back to Social Work pilot by partnering with three regions across England to offer placements to 100 social work returners. The Department of Health will build on the existing nurses' scheme to run a programme for 300 returners; including physiotherapists, podiatrists, dieticians, and radiographers. The placements will include education, re-training and tailored support, with the aim of getting returners ready to practise within six to 12 months.
According to research by PwC, addressing the career break penalty through measures such as returnships could provide a £1.7 billion boost to the UK’s annual economic output. This could increase the annual earnings of female professionals by an average of £4,000 per woman.
The new programmes are intended to help develop best practice examples for other organisations to learn from. The Government Equalities Office has also launched a public call for evidence on how best to support people returning to work, particularly within the private sector. The call for evidence will run for eight weeks until 29 October.
Minister of state for apprenticeships, skills and women Anne Milton explained that businesses are affected by people not returning to work. “Millions of us need to take time out from our careers but it can be really hard to return," she said. "This is bad for the people affected, and the businesses who miss out on their talents. Women in particular find the routes back into employment closed off after taking time out to start a family.
“These returner programmes will make it routine for women to go back to the workplace and get on with their careers. It ultimately should also help us to tackle the gender pay gap. I think it’s important that the public sector leads by example and introduces programmes to support people returning to the workplace.”