DTT – Developing a Career Returner Programme

Powerful Brands are Created through Powerful Employees

Career Returner Programmes

In today’s working world, there are no set rules for how careers develop and evolve over time. Employers recognise that a powerful brand is created through powerful employees. This means not only allowing, but encouraging staff to use their benefits, leave, and PTO time. Acknowledging the various career paths that are taken in today’s society, many employers offer career returner programmes that offer talented professionals the opportunity to return to the workplace after taking an extended break from work.

These are the thoughts and takeaways from the latest Diversity Think Tank (DTT) held on Monday 24th April 2017 hosted by Legal & General, titled ‘Developing a Career Returners Programme’.

The following summary has been prepared to reflect a segment of the discussion held amongst senior HR, Resourcing and Diversity professionals from leading national and international businesses. Specific company details, experiences and examples have been omitted from this summary as all discussions are held under ‘Chatham House Rules’.

Step 1: Developing a Returnship Initiative

Our hosting business, Legal & General, were clear that their employer brand is all about bringing to life what they offer their people, which make them a great place to work:

  • Experience
  • Opportunities
  • Engaging and inspiring their employees

Adhering to their employer brand and company vision of inspiring and motivating their employees attracts the best talent pool externally. In order to help them source the best talent they ensure they have a diverse and inclusive approach to recruitment. Going forward, a key element of this recruitment strategy will involve offering career returnships.

Step 2.  Building the Business Case: Attracting, Engaging, Onboarding, Support and Development of the Returners  

Attracting and Engaging Returners

In the questions below, we evaluate the initiatives that need to be undertaken when offering returnships in the workplace. First, we need to identify where returners would fit into the business model by determining potential skills gaps, and where a returner’s skills would best fit in the organisation. To best benefit the organisation, the returnships should enhance current business strategies. Important questions for the organisation to ask are:

  • Does the business understand the skill gaps that exist?
  • Are the skill gaps filling a need (needs basis) with returnships? Or is it because it is the right thing to do (i.e. the inclusion pillar sits as one of L&G’s core 4 pillars) and therefore promoting your EVP?
  • Can this be linked back to an overarching business vision which in turn is linked to principles / values and then linked to outputs & targets?
  • Using data to drive the business case – i.e. Is there evidence that solving a key skills gap will equate in XYZ return?
  • Are you starting from the point of a genuine business problem? Are there certain parts of the business that have skills gaps / difficulty recruiting where they will embrace and help drive it?
  • What are the priceless skills and personality traits people learn from having different backgrounds that they can bring into your organisation to drive different thinking

In addition to the organisation identifying to what end the returner will be an asset to the workplace, HR and the organisation must also identify:

  • What are the returner’s motivations and objectives?
  • Is it relevant (or even necessary) to factor in the reason for taking career breaks? I.e. Stress, mental health issues, general health issues, transgender, ethnicity, LGBT, education, etc.
  • Do employers offer temporary (12 week) programmes without an opportunity after the assignment?
  • Do employers look at returnships in senior roles first to help establish that it’s a good strategy from top down?
  • Do employers enact the ‘give it a go’ mentality and see what happens!? Then look for success and celebrate great success.
  • Challenge short term thinking – the less riskiest thinking.
  • HR and the organisation should employ futureproofing in their hiring strategies by analyzing hiring trends and workforce dynamics.

Onboarding and Development for Returners:

Baby Steps or ‘fully-fledged employment’? It’s important to identify the best position for the returner as a 12-week assignment versus a more permanent role.

Questions to ask about the returner include:

  • Does that candidate want to commit to a full time job?
  • Is the non-permanency attractive to some returners? I.e. child care issues / logistics of being able to commit to 12 weeks
  • Is it worthwhile to the business to offer lower hour weeks to bring the returner back up to speed? I.e. Negotiate a reasonable working week.
  • What should we be prepared to offer?
  • What will the returner need: training, apprenticeship, buddy system, mentoring?

These questions should be discussed with a flexible and agile approach.

Security footprints must be completed and conveyed to the returner during the hiring process (past three years). Vetting will take longer so ensure this is built into the hiring process. Liaise with security, reference checking firms and ensure you have a robust and clear process that is then communicated to candidates. This ensures transparency to candidates rather than frustration further down the track which could quite easily affect drop-out rates.

Induction Questions for the Returner

Important questions to ask the returner and to analyse internally:

  • What support actually exists for the reason I took my career break (i.e. if it was stress because it was a bullying environment, what support or has changed?)
  • Culture and attitudes need to change before you embark on a journey.
  • Ensure that this diverse workforce is set up for success – otherwise you are setting them up to fail.
  • Don’t assume – ask the question!

Induction Questions for Hiring Managers to Think About

  • What does a great team member look like?
  • What support do we need to give them to ensure that they can assess candidates who may not come from the stereotypical background and are different to who they’d normally hire?
  • Should hiring managers move away from the hiring process; making it less self-service and putting the focus back on the Talent Acquisition (TA) team? The TA team thus become more intwined in the process and are therefore able to advise line managers on the candidate’s skill-set, what their motivations are and what they can expect from that candidate in role.
  • What can hiring managers / line managers bring to the table to talk about?
  • What happens when they interact with the candidate and their needs are different?

Things to Consider

WHY do the skills gaps exist?

Support around confidence in job applicants – i.e. women returning from having children typically under-apply for jobs against their education / potential. How can we encourage more women to apply for these roles?

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