• International Workplace
  • 19 December 2017

Returners to work: accessing a large pool of talent

According to Carers UK, one in nine employees are currently caring for a family member and one in five carers give up work to care full-time. In fact, estimates from Age UK show that around £5.3bn has been wiped from the economy in lost earnings due to people who have dropped out of the workforce to take on caring responsibilities.

 “(The big challenge is) convincing recruiters and employers that you still have potential and your past experience can still count,”

says Jemeela Quraishi, Senior Development Manager of the CIPD Steps Ahead Mentoring Programme.

This, for example, was a real struggle for Shabana, who had been out of employment for eight years to look after her young children, and was now trying to re-enter the workforce. And it’s not just mothers who experience this; demographic change means many of us are finding ourselves part of the ‘sandwich generation’ – caring for older family members and looking after children – which, coupled with work, can put increasing strain on our ability to balance our lives.

The problem lies with the rigid organisational set ups that make it harder than it should be for people to re-enter the labour market when they choose to. So, what can we do to change this? How can workplaces adapt to provide returners – whether it be parents or carers or those returning from sickness absence – with job opportunities that can fit around their personal circumstances and prevent them from dropping out of the labour market?

The CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, with more than 145,000 members working across HR and L&D, believes that HR and employers have a key role to play in improving access to work for these groups. One way they can do this is by increasing access to flexible and part-time work opportunities. Currently only 9.8% of jobs (paid £20k pa or more) are advertised as flexible at the point of hire, yet 54% of people currently work flexibly in one way or another, so demand is not meeting supply.

Not only that, there are many compelling business benefits to improve flexibility in the workplace. Flexible working can increase employee engagement and be a major factor in people staying with their current employer. Flexible workers report being more satisfied with their jobs and having a better work-life balance. They also have improved productivity and reduced stress as they are able to have a better work-life balance.

There is also a very real economic need; 1.5 million people are trapped in low-paid part-time work below their skill level and a further 400,000 are out of work because they cannot find quality flexible work. Three in five single parents report seeing none or few jobs they could apply for which are advertised part-time.

Increasing flexible work opportunities can open up organisations to these pools of talent. Currently most workplaces are far too focused on traditional nine to five cultures, placing too much value on time spent at the desk and not enough on people’s outputs. This, says the CIPD, has to change.

“These people have been out of work but they may have been doing some things that can really be valuable for the type of role that we are looking for. They are capable people, they have certain skills through their caring and parenting that can relate to our jobs and the work environment,”

says Belinda, CIPD member, Steps Ahead mentor and HR Consultant

The CIPD has partnered with the Timewise Foundation on their Hire Me My Way campaign, which aims to have one million jobs (paid £20k pa or more) advertised as flexible by 2020, trebling current figures. However, although this will go a long way in helping more people access quality work, it is only part of the problem. Many parent and carer returners, having been out of the labour market for some time, experience low confidence and are unsure of what skills they have to offer, especially when they find how the world of work has changed. The more time people spend out of the labour market, the harder it is to re-enter it. This is why CIPD has also, in conjunction with Timewise, extended its Steps Ahead mentoring programme to support over 100 low-income parent and carer returners.

Over 3,300 CIPD members currently volunteer as Steps Ahead mentors. The programme matches jobseekers with a mentor, who is a HR professional and able to share their unique insight and expertise to develop mentee confidence and employability skills; and ultimately help them find work.

An additional benefit of the programme is that it allows HR professionals, who hold a unique position in the labour market and can be real advocates for change in recruitment practices, to gain more insight and understanding into the challenges these groups can face when trying to access work. In many cases, this has led them to reflect on their own HR practice and make changes in their approach to recruitment.

“I’m thinking differently about somebody’s passion and what their strengths are. Rather than looking for exact experiences that match what I need, I look for people that have the ability to be developed because I think if you have somebody who’s truly passionate about the work they do, you can teach them transactional skills,”

says Katie, Steps Ahead mentor, CIPD member and Hiring and Workforce Manager.

While programmes like the CIPD’s Steps Ahead Mentoring and Timewise’s Hire Me My Way campaign are helping to bring to light the challenges facing those trying to return to work, action is needed from government and from businesses.

Employers need to ensure that they are as inclusive as possible, by advertising jobs as flexible and ensuring their policies show they are open to reaping the benefits of a much wider pool of talent and will enable everyone to reach their potential, regardless of circumstance. They also need to train line managers to understand the demands that many returners might still have on them outside of work, and be able to have conversations and provide support to them when needed.

Government needs to act as an enabler, encouraging much wider debate and more actively promoting the business case for more inclusive workplaces among employers so that they act more urgently. They also need to develop a stronger evidence base and act as a repository of good practice case studies, celebrating those employers getting it right.


For more information about the CIPD Steps Ahead Mentoring Programme, visit


For more information about Timewise’s Hire Me My Way campaign, visit