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Forget internships – ‘returnships’ are now a thing

Most people are familiar with internships for school leavers and graduate trainees

The latest phenomenon in the world of work is the so-called ‘returnship’, which sees women return to the workplace after having children on a placement basis.

The concept offers a whole host of potential benefits – so much so that a cross-party MP group is calling on employers and the government to put measures in place that help mothers back into the workforce after having career breaks.

The MPs believe that this will bring an influx of experience and skills back to employers and boost the economy in the process, with research suggesting that a five per cent increase in the number of women returning to work could create extra tax revenue of £750m. This will be even more important at a time when the shift to low-paid ‘gig economy’ jobs is causing a headache for the government in terms of reduced tax income and greater benefits expenditure, with this trend looking to continue.

Jess Phillips, the labour MP who launched a year-long enquiry into the topic, said that Britain has a huge productivity problem that is largely driven by a failure to engage potential working women.

Goldman Sachs first introduced returnships in 2008 in the US. They were then brought over to the UK by Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank and Morgan Stanley in 2014. Returnship placements last between three and six months and look to grow technology skills, confidence through coaching, and reacquaint women with the corporate world – typically with the assistance of a mentor.

23 schemes of this kind were offered in the UK last year, with over 90 per cent of candidates being women. Interestingly, research suggests that the more senior position a woman held when she left the workforce for a career break, the more important the lifeline is to returning.

MD of Women Returners, Julianne Miles, explains that there are significant blocks to returning to work at a senior level with a gap on the individual’s CV. She explains that women are often ignored, with an ingrained employer bias against those without recent experience. The women often lose confidence as a result and are perceived to be low on skills, making them a risky proposition.

Experts find the opposite to be true, however, with female returners offering measurably greater value in terms of knowledge, efficiency and experience – particularly when compared with the millennial generation, which has less experience. Other research suggests that women gain skills from having career breaks, such as dealing with pressure, organisation, multi-tasking in isolation, emotional control, and the pressure of dependency.

Perhaps the world of employers will now begin to recognise these facts and find ways to welcome experienced and skilled women back into the world of work and into careers and roles that make the best of their skills and talents. This would help Britain to close its productivity gap – and the government to enjoy the tax revenue benefits in the process.

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