HR · 12 December 2017

Returnship programmes remain untouched by 95 per cent of UK employers

Successful employee development
Returnship programmes have been targeted at mothers returning to work

Just five per cent of UK employers operate so-called “returnship” programmes designed to bring professionals back into the workforce, new research has found, as a lack of government incentive leaves the idea largely unheard of in business.

According to the findings of research commissioned by mobile network O2 and parents’ website Mumsnet, undertaken by job site Totaljobs, back-to-work initiatives aimed at high level workers could be widely welcomed by business if greater incentives were offered by government, as per the Apprenticeship Levy.

Overall, 85 per cent of employers were completely unaware of the idea and how their recruitment strategy could benefit.

The concept was first coined by Goldman Sachs in 2008, and returnships have since been used to give professionals who have taken a career break a route back into work. Such schemes could give employers access to under-utilised talent pools, such as returning mothers.

Programmes typically start with three to six-month paid contracts, with the possibitlity for a permanent role afterwards, lowering the risk for business owners.

Read more: British public overwhelmingly backs end to unpaid internships

Having learned of how a returnship programme would operate, one in five employers were happy to adopt the idea straight away, while 69 per cent would do so if financial incentives to support such initiatives were there.

The government first signalled its support for the idea in March 2017’s Spring Budget, when chancellor Philip Hammond set aside £5m to help bring people back to work after career breaks.

When delivering the Conservative Party’s election pledges in May 2017, prime minister Theresa May confirmed government plans to fund more schemes bringing mothers back to work after spending time raising a family.

However, the idea was left out of Hammond’s recent Autumn Budget announcements altogether, and uptake and awareness of returnship programmes among employers has failed to take off.

Despite the strong lack of awareness among employers, David Clift, Totaljobs HR director, claimed returnship programmes offered unique benefits.

“Returnships are an excellent way of welcoming employees back into the workforce, utilising their skills and making sure talent isn’t lost permanently,” he said.

“While returnships could be one of the ways of closing the skills gap the UK is facing at the moment, there is much work to be done in educating employers and recruiters on the benefits of such programmes. We are optimistic that these findings, as well as the government’s support, will encourage more employers to offer returnships and show those looking for ways back into work, that returnships are a viable track.”

Adding further detail to how returnships could from part of a successful recruitment strategy, Justine Roberts, founder and CEO of Mumsnet, said: “Returnships are a relatively new idea, but where they’re offered, they’re taken up with gusto by highly qualified women wanting to come back to the workplace.”

Find out the five most important employment law issues facing business owners in 2018

Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest from Business Advice.



Praseeda Nair is the editorial director of Business Advice, and its sister publication for growing businesses, Real Business. She's an impassioned advocate for women in leadership, and likes to profile business owners, advisors and experts in the field of entrepreneurship and management.

Tax & admin