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Returnships – the future of hiring?

The government recently promised a £5 million Returnship Programme to help more women back into work after a career break. So what are returnships and will they soon be as common place as graduate recruitment schemes?

What is a Returnship?

A returnship is a paid work placement aimed at experienced workers who have taken a career break, but who now want to get back into their original sector. These placements act as a bridge for experienced professionals to return to their roles of expertise. They are often taken up by women who have taken time out of the workplace to raise a family.

A report by PWC showed that the UK is missing out on £170bn worth of economic benefits by not having enough women in work. In addition, The Office of National Statistics data shows there are over 1.5m women in the UK who want to work more hours than they currently do. A government commission has highlighted that this opportunity is significant amongst those with professional and managerial skills.

Returnships originated in the financial sector with Goldman Sachs launching the first one in 2008 in the US. They appeared in the UK around six years ago with further financial institutions recognising the benefits of hiring skilled workers in this way. Around 25 have been announced by UK organisations this year according to Women Returners.

Career breaks – a female ‘problem’?

It’s true that while more and more women are becoming main breadwinners as their partners choose to stay at home, career breaks are still largely taken by female workers. Shared Parental Leave may play its part in changing attitudes, but this is being slow to be adopted.

Returnships are aimed at people who have taken more than just maternity leave – sometimes returners may have been out of the workplace for ten years or more. Getting back into the workplace can be challenging for anyone with gaps on their CV.

Many women prefer to find local work that fits around home commitments with limited time spent commuting. Some will even do anything to achieve this – including compromising on their dream role.

In this vein, the Paula Principle writer Tom Schuller, recently spoke about women being more willing to work in positions below their capabilities. PWC indicated some truth in this when they reported that three-fifths of women returners often moved into lower skilled and lower paid roles. Returnships are thought to be one way of helping move more women (and men) back into work when the time comes.

Why Returnships?

Returnships are beneficial to employees as they offer a chance to update skills, knowledge and experience, with the possibility of moving or transferring into another area. It adds a recent or current position to a CV, making the returner more attractive in the job market. Plus we also believe they are great for boosting a candidate’s confidence – a crucial part of easing back into the workplace after an absence.

A returnship is an excellent proposition for companies, as it gives them a highly skilled employee on a fixed-term basis and therefore offers little risk to the business. The candidate can bring their focus to a business-critical issue, best matched to their previous experience, skills or even interests. If all goes well, the result is a tried and trusted employee.

What are the chances of employment?    

Returners have described this process as a ‘three-month interview’ (although not all returnships are this long). Crucially, a job isn’t always 100% guaranteed at the end of the process.

The downside is, we’ve also heard that recruits aren’t paid nearly as much as they would have been before their employment gap – an advantage for employers but not for the employee perhaps. They may have had a break but this doesn’t mean they’ve lost their hard-won professional skills.

Why aren’t more companies offering them?

The businesses we speak to often say that returnships are a great idea but they fail to follow through by acting on this. Unfortunately, they’re still viewed as the proviso of the corporate giants of this world; small to medium companies are struggling to catch on.

Barriers for these businesses include lack of resource, space and finance to implement such a scheme. In the same way work experience schemes can be viewed as a headache for time poor business managers, so too can a returnship scheme. There’s no doubt that mentoring takes time away from pressing business concerns. Yet with a little pain, there can be a lot of gain.

What’s the government doing?

Theresa May’s government promised £5 million towards returnship schemes to help women back into the work place after starting a family. This is part of the government’s work towards closing the Gender Pay Gap.

It’s a small amount when you look at the big picture, but the money will go some way to broadening existing schemes.

We feel it’s a move that highlights the difficulties many women face after starting a family.

Returnships and the future of employment

With major organisations like Vodafone, the Home Office and Tideway adopting returnships, it seems only a matter of time before they’re common place. In the future, hopefully they will be viewed as must-have schemes, boosting a company’s offering, making them an attractive employer.

However, at the moment, they are usually full-time permanent positions based within large cities. Their design removes the option for flexibility and seems to assume that high-powered career roles cannot be achieved on a flexible basis.

A great business proposition

Here at Ten2Two, we’re supporters of returnships. We believe every company should think about a returnship programme or recruiting a returner in order to benefit from the great skills experienced professionals can bring.

We know from experience that an employee with 10-15 years’ experience doesn’t forget all they’ve learned just because they’ve had a break. Yes, it’s true they may be rusty, but we have seen returners work through any issues in a matter of weeks, pleasantly surprising clients with how little mentoring is actually required.

The Ten2Two Approach

If you’re serious about offering a returnship, think about a well-defined project or business area that could benefit from an experienced pair of hands – but where there’s also some time for guidance.

We’d even suggest considering flexible hours to attract the best talent. The schemes are working in London, so they should also work outside of the capital. With a flexible approach, businesses around the UK stand to profit from a bolstered work force too.

If you’d like to discuss returnships with your local Ten2Two office, please get in touch. We can work with you to develop and implement a scheme. Plus our flexible and part-time recruitment agency has a massive pool of untapped talent – people who aren’t often registered anywhere else. We look forward to hearing from you.

Top tips for creating a Returnship

  • Identify a defined project or business area
  • Set clear, measurable objectives with success criteria
  • Set a timescale for review of success or failure
  • Identify who will mentor the returner
  • Offer part-time hours to attract the broadest talent pool


6 min read