At Morgan Sindall Construction & Infrastructure, we’ve recently opened our second Returnships programme for applications after our initial scheme, which was successfully launched in October 2017, saw over ninety applicants with a range of skills and experience apply to return to employment after a career break of 18 months or more.
Historically, the construction and infrastructure industry has been characterised by long working hours, difficult site conditions and a culture which has not always been appealing to those needing to balance family life with a career, or where those from any other background other than white-male have felt that they can feel respected and included. In addition, a national skills shortage in many key areas has meant that roles for many construction companies and their supply chain have been difficult to fill. The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) themselves have reported that the industry will need to find 157,000 new recruits by 2021 in order to keep up with demand.
We have recogised this and have received commendation, both from within the industry and externally, for our strategy to resolve this. A significant part of which has been the Returnships Programme, which has been shortlisted at this year’s Working Mum’s Top Employer Awards for the Best Returnships Programme. The programme accepts people at all levels who have taken a voluntary career break of at least 18 months or more. Applicants may have left the industry to run their own business, raise children or care for a relative. They may have had an illness themselves which stopped them from working, but are now well enough to return to work.
One of the many benefits of the Returnships programme is its core message – that at some point in time many people have had to take an unexpected career break and that no one should be penalised for this. In their 2016 report Women Returners, PwC states that three in five professional women return to lower-skilled or lower-paid jobs following their career breaks and resolving this could boost the UK’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) by £1.7 billion.
Our programme is similar to an internship – an initial three month paid placement will be offered, with a view to securing a permanent position. The placement will serve as a staged return, offering the opportunity for individuals to re-engage with working life, initially on a part to full time basis, all the time developing skills and competencies required to work with a leading UK contractor.
A significant feature of our programme is that it is not gender specific. Many of the 2017 applicants were male, who for a number of reasons had taken a career break and had received negative reactions from other businesses and recruiters when they wished to return to employment.
Bahar Eser applied for the 2017 Returnships programme having moved to Switzerland in 2014 with the aim to learn the local language and study for a PhD in BIM (Building Information Modelling). During this time, her circumstances changed and she returned to the UK. Once Bahar started looking for work, she noticed people implied that she had too long of a career gap and her experience would be outdated. Bahar said, “I felt this was a harsh comment, particularly as I had 27 years of experience and had kept up with intense self-studying during my absence from regular employment.”
A friend recommended a returnship programme and this is where she found the Morgan Sindall Construction & Infrastructure programme. When discussing the benefits of the returnship programme, she said: “The Returnship programme is an opportunity that is not to be missed. It is true that a career break impacts one’s perceived professional agility from some companies and recruiters. The programme offers the opportunity to build your work involvement slowly and to start with a low level of pressure for delivery. This is the best method I can think of when returning to work after a break, as it really builds your confidence and means you will be successful in your role.”
Bahar is one of the five people who were offered a place on the programme, all of which are still with the business; and this year Morgan Sindall Construction and Infrastructure hope to offer more roles. We want to lead the way in changing external perceptions of the sector from many under-represented groups thanks to its embedded diverse and inclusive culture.
Anyone interested in participating in the Returnships programme can find out more on our website. The site also hosts the latest vacancies, so if a Returnship is not appropriate to your situation, available vacancies can also be found here. The closing date for the programme is 31 December 2018.