Women Returners

Leaving employment for periods of a few months up to a few years, forms an important stage in the career of many women. But time away from the workplace can be disruptive and people re-entering the workforce often feel intimidated or lacking in confidence at the changes that have taken place, even over a short period. Women need to make sure that when they return to work they still have their self-belief, have kept in touch with issues in the workplace and have updated their skills.

Before you leave work, check your options. Some companies offer internal refresher courses or offer short-term placements and training days during a career break, designed to help staff keep in touch. Whether you intend to return to the same company or not, make sure you know where you stand in terms of company pay and benefits, such as pensions and private medical insurance.

Some professions are better than others at helping staff back into work. Often these are either female-dominated jobs or in industries facing chronic staff shortages. Find out what the situation is within industry, and try talking to other women who may have had similar experiences. You could also consider contacting an organisation such as Association for Women in Science and Engineering.

You may also contact the Human Resources departments of firms that you might consider working for. Legislation is increasingly on the side of the working woman, and it is getting easier for women to return to work. Employers are more open to staff leaving and re-entering the job market and flexible working is easier in the UK than anywhere else in Europe. The most important point to note is that as long as you are aware of your rights, are proactive and assert yourself, you will probably be able to make suitable arrangements to return to work.

– Before you leave for your break, find out about schemes run by your company. Check out how you stand in relation to existing benefits, particularly pensions.
– Assess your skills, looking objectively at those you have and those that are lacking. Where can you use your transferable skills? What skills are in demand?
– Take a general returners course at a local Further Education college and a refresher course in your specialism.
– Talk to other people. Networking may provide you with a wealth of useful advice and information.
– Prepare. Look at the advantages to the company of recruiting you on a flexible contract, including issues such as staff retention, motivation or overheads. Sell these advantages to your potential employer.
– Decide the working hours you can manage, then negotiate with prospective employers. Make sure they know of your other commitments.
– Be flexible and realistic. Some jobs require a nine-to-five commitment, but a job-share arrangement may be possible. Others can be done from home, others require national or international travel – assess the requirements of the job you want and measure it against your own requirements.
– Organise childcare and have a back-up plan in case arrangements fall through.

There are lots of resources available for those wanting to re-train and some number of employers are willing to help subsidise re-training, particularly in fields such as nursing and teaching. They may have in-house refresher courses or schemes that can update skills such as IT. Discuss options with employers and see if an individual solution can be worked out.

The Government also funds learning through initiatives such as career development loans (CDLs). These loans are provided by commercial banks for vocational training. The Department for Education and Employment pays the interest on the loan during the training and for a month afterwards, but the banks involved make the lending decision. For more information visitwww.lifelonglearning.co.uk. The site also has other useful information on sourcing financial support for learning.

For information on personal and professional development, including publications and a list of trainers across the UK, visitwww.springboardconsultancy.com.

A good general guide to adult education, covering topics from returning to work and distance learning to finding courses across the UK, is at adulted.about.com/education/adulted/mbody.htm.

The National Organisation for Adult Learning, at http://www.niace.org.uk has a list of journals, news on activities across the country, information about funding and a mirror site in Welsh.

The Open University site is another essential resource.

For more colleges offering certificate courses and employment training in your area, see www.bubl.ac.uk.