Balfour Beatty’s move follows the autumn opening of the Scottish office of Women Returners for Business, a UK group that brings professionals who have been on extended breaks of at least two years back into the workforce. This is achieved by helping organisations develop returning professional internships – returnships – which are paid short-term employment contracts.
Accountancy firm PWC has estimated that bridging the career break penalty experienced mainly by women could deliver an annual earnings boost of £1.1 billion and additional economic output of £1.7bn in the UK. It can also help businesses address gender imbalances in the management ranks by providing access to a pool of experienced talent.
Julianne Miles, co-founder and managing director of Women Returners, said many professional women do not feel equipped to put themselves forward for senior roles after several years out of work. Many companies are also reticent to take a risk on someone without recent experience.
“Our role is to help businesses set up programmes to access that talent in a way that is low-risk and ensures the company benefits from the individual’s experience and expertise,” Miles said at the opening of the Edinburgh office. “We also help the returnee integrate into the work environment, so that they can make a valued contribution to the business from day one and update their skills in a supportive environment.”
Pioneered in the US by Goldman Sachs, returnships were first introduced in the UK in 2014, but to date have been available mainly in London, and largely across the financial services industry.
Three firms piloted the concept in 2014, followed by nine in 2015 and more than 20 this year. A programme typically lasts for 12 to 21 weeks, with offers of a permanent placement for between 50 and 90 per cent of participants upon completion.
Balfour Beatty is among the first outside the banking, accountancy and fund management sectors to offer a UK-wide scheme, which begins in April and will include its offices in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
“With a number of major infrastructure projects in the pipeline, we are looking to attract talent to support us in meeting the future demand for skills,” said Liam Donnelly, director of human resources for Balfour Beatty. “Through our new Returners Programme, we will support those looking for a route back into work having taken an extended break from their careers and open up job opportunities in a broad spectrum of roles across the UK.”