What is Women Returners?
Women Returners works with employers and career returners (mainly women, but also some men) to enable professionals to return to work after an extended career break.
Women Returners partnered with the Home Office in 2019 to design, promote and support the department’s first Career Returners Programme. In its inaugural year, the programme received a strong response from high quality applicants, with 9 returners starting in September 2019.
Alice was one of those career returners. She shares her story.
Hi, I’m Alice. I’d like to tell you the story of how I went from IT consultant living the high life with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), to unemployed Mum and back again into a rewarding IT career with the Home Office Career Returners Programme, supported by Women Returners.
IT was not something I had ever considered as a career but on graduating from University I discovered I had skills highly suited to this field. I was accepted onto the graduate programme at PwC. I found myself enjoying my new life with my own money, own flat, company car and company expense account. Life was good!
Of course, life is ever changing and before I knew it, I was engaged to be married. I decided it was time to break from the consulting lifestyle of hotel living and settle down.
I spent some time contracting and then took a permanent 9-5 job managing a sizeable team of data analysts spread across Europe. It suited married life but lacked the consulting spark I had enjoyed.
I was delighted to discover I had fallen pregnant. A request to work part-time on return from maternity leave was rejected by the company. So I made the decision to be a full-time, stay-at-home Mum to my beautiful girl.
Fourteen years, two more children, and one divorce later I was ready to find myself and rebuild my career again.
I had worked for many years as a teaching assistant at local primary schools, specialising in maths. I was passionate about enthusing children to love the subject as much as I did. The rewards were plenty, I loved every minute of it, but the time had come to start a new chapter.
The question was, how?!
The journey back to work with Women Returners
It had been fourteen years since I had been near an IT project, queried a database or managed a team. I had no idea where to start.
It took a fair bit of convincing from my friends and ex-colleagues that I still had the required skills for an IT career. I just wasn’t convinced a prospective employer would choose my CV over the CV of someone who could show more recent experience.
I spent hours scrolling through online job sites and researching possible options until I came across Women Returners.
Women Returners seemed the perfect solution! Their website showcased a whole host of companies that were prepared to take on someone who had taken a career break. Maybe my new chapter was possible after all.
I searched through the recruiting organisations on the Women Returners website and one stood out to me – the Home Office.
Throughout my time working in schools I had come to realise that the reward of providing a service and making the world better for others was more important to me than the huge salary and company car I had enjoyed in my youth.
I had civil servant friends who encouraged me to apply, explaining that the flexible work practices offered in the civil service would be perfect for me as a single parent of relatively young children.
I read everything I could find about the scheme and the Home Office then set about pulling together a CV. What did I have to lose? I completed the online application and was delighted (and terrified!) to be invited to interview. I prepared as best I could and my first proper interview in sixteen years went well.
I was thrilled to get the call inviting me to join the Home Office Women Returners scheme. I’d done it! The future I was able to offer my children was suddenly brighter. It felt good to feel proud of myself again.
Joining the Home Office as a career returner
Six months passed as Home Office security clearances were processed and then my first day arrived. Starting with a cohort of fellow returners was fantastic – like the graduate scheme from many moons ago.
A representative from Women Returners welcomed us all and helped settle our nerves. Paul Cooper, the Home Office Career Returner Programme Manager, took us all under his wing and inducted us into the civil service. We spent a week together, bonding and building friendships, and then we were dispersed to our various Home Office teams.
Women Returners arranged career returners coaching throughout our first 6 months covering things such as how to present yourself following a career break (first impressions count!) and how to manage a successful work-life balance. They provided just the right level of support to make me feel comfortable re-entering the workforce after so long and confirmed for me that the skills I had used long ago were still relevant and would prove useful on the job.
It was incredible to watch how much each of us grew during that time. For me, my confidence grew week by week, as did my knowledge, and I was supported to gain an APM Project Management Qualification too.
Each of the returners had different challenges to face but we all had the support of each other on top of the great support of our Home Office teams. By the end of the 6 months I certainly didn’t feel like I had been away from the workplace for 14 years.
Instead I felt I was making a valuable contribution to my team and had made some wonderful new friends to boot. Flexible working arrangements meant I was able to arrange my working week around my childcare requirements with additional support from my family to help with school runs when I needed to be in London.
From career returner to permanent employee
Twelve months later I had secured a permanent position with the Home Office, achieved 2 internationally recognised qualifications in APM Project Management and Agile Practitioner and settled into the rhythm of working life. I now work in a team to deliver critical national infrastructure to policing. I especially enjoy liaising with a varied range of stakeholders across the police forces and HM Courts & Tribunals Service as well as other government departments. There is never a dull day!
I can’t thank Women Returners and the Home Office enough for everything they have done and continue to do to support me.
If you are reading this because you are thinking of applying for a career returners scheme, do it, you won’t regret it! Take your time to research the different schemes available and make sure you choose the one that fits you best; for me it was about finding a role where I felt I was making a difference, that was flexible enough to fit around my family and offered great support and career progression.
Good luck with your next chapter!
What you can expect from the Career Returners Programme at the Home Office:
- a 6 month paid returnship
- real and meaningful work allowing returners to have impact and showcase their skills
- Career Returners Coaching Programme delivered in group workshops by Women Returners coach, to help returners transition successfully back to work
- 7 women and 2 men with career breaks of between 2 – 14 years
- the returners joined Digital, Data and Technology at the Home Office as Delivery Managers
- located in London, Croydon, Sheffield
Results of the Career Returners Programme at the Home Office:
- strong application numbers
- 55% conversion rate to permanent employees after 6 months, with all other returners having their contracts extended
- increased diversity, not only gender but also age and background