What are return to work programmes?

returner handReturn to work programmes have become very popular over the last few years, since the government invested £1.5million into them in the 2017 budget. So what exactly are they, why are they worth doing and how easy are they to find?

Why are they a good route back to work?

Anyone who’s had a career break knows that getting back into work can feel a bit daunting. Some people worry that technology has moved on too far, or that the role they did before has changed too much, or that their skills are too rusty. Others know that they can only come back if they can get a flexible or  part-time role, and don’t know how or where to find one.

All of this can make it hard to feel confident enough to apply for jobs after a break, let alone make it through to interviews and beyond. The good news is, both employers and the government have recognised that people who want to return to work might need extra support. And they’re investing time and money into creating programmes that deliver it.

Here we take a look at the different kinds of programme that are available, and what they have to offer.

What do return to work programmes involve?

There are two main types of formal return to work programme; returnships[1], and supported hire programmes[2]. Each offers a supported pathway back into work for men and women who have had a break, usually of a two years or more.

  • Returnships

Returnships are professional, fixed-term contracts with training and support built in, usually paid and at a relatively senior level. They can last anything from 10 weeks to six months and, if all goes well, they often lead to a permanent role.

  • Supported hire programmes

Supported hire programmes recruit returners into permanent ongoing roles within a team from day one. As with returnships, they usually include training and mentoring as part of the process.

Why are they so good for returners?

People who take part in return to work programmes usually work on live projects that suit their previous experience, but with extra support. As well as being given coaching to build their confidence and ease them back into the workplace, they are usually provided with bespoke training to help them overcome any skills or technology gaps.

For example, a typical returnship might start with a week’s induction into the company, followed by a week of workshops designed specifically for returners. All this would happen before their day-to-day job begins. Additionally, returners are often assigned a mentor or a buddy who they can go to for advice, as well as being supported by their own team.

In larger companies, there are usually several places available on each return to work programme. This means that the returners benefit from being part of a supportive group who are going through the same things at the same time.

How flexible are they?

Return to work programmes tend to be designed with flexible working in mind. This is because many (although not all) returners have taken a break for caring reasons.

For example, Deloitte’s Return to Work programme takes place across four days each week for 20 weeks. And any roles offered at the end of it are available on a part-time or flexible basis.

Who offers them?

Formal returnships have only been available in the UK since 2014, but the government’s pledge to invest £5million into their development makes it likely that there will be more of them, across more sectors, in the years ahead.

Typically, they have been offered by large corporate firms such as EY and Lloyds Banking Group. However, smaller organisations such as Thames Tideway and Enfield Council have also offered programmes within the last few years.

Supported hire programmes are available from a variety of organisations, with recent opportunities including O2 and M&G.

Where can I find them?

The best way to find out about return to work programmes as soon as they are launched is to sign up to our returner register. You can also look for suitable programmes on our jobsite, in the return to work programmes category. Remember, all roles that appear on Timewise Jobs are flexible in some way, and the same goes for any return to work programmes we feature.

There’s a growing recognition amongst employers that would-be returners are talented, experienced people who just need a bit of help getting started. And more and more companies are investing in making that happen. So if you’re looking to get back into the workplace, now is a great time.



[1] The term ‘returnship’ is trademarked by Goldman Sachs

[2] The term ‘supported hiring’ was coined by Women Returners

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