New survey to assess impact of a career break on returning to work in the STEM industry

Posted on 3 Apr 2024 by The Manufacturer

Return-to-work specialists STEM Returners has launched its annual survey to understand STEM professionals’ experiences of trying to re-enter the workplace after a career break.

The 2024 STEM Returners Index is open to all STEM professions who have had a gap in their career of any length, or who are attempting to return to work, or who have recently returned to work.

The survey is anonymous and asks a range of questions including reasons for a career break and what challenges were faced when attempting to return to work. The results will enable STEM Returners to further understand the barriers people face, track the progress UK STEM industries are making, and shine a light on the change needed to create fair opportunities for all.

This is the fifth Index launched by STEM Returners, which facilitates paid short-term employment placements with industry leaders like Wates, BAE Systems, EDF, Leonardo and Boeing to help return highly qualified and experienced STEM professionals back to work after a career break.

Returners can be any age, ethnicity, come from any background and importantly can have any length of break on their CV.

The 2024 STEM Returners Index will be open until 30 June 2024.

STEM Returners, based near Southampton, Hampshire, was set up by Natalie Desty in 2017 after she saw the challenges STEM professionals who had been out of employment for a period of time faced when trying to re-enter their profession.

Natalie said: “Sadly, there is a misconception that a career break leads to a deterioration of skills but in our experience that’s simply not true. Most people keep up to date with the latest developments in their field, undertake training while on a break and develop new, transferable skills that would benefit an employer.

“But recruitment bias in the system means, when they are ready to return to work, they face an uphill battle.

“We want to get more detailed insight into these challenges and use this valuable information to help employers improve their recruitment processes. I would like to personally encourage any STEM professional who has had a career break, of any length, to take part in the survey and tell us about their experiences.”

More than 1000 people completed last year’s survey, which showed women who were trying to return to the engineering industry after a career break were more likely to experience recruitment bias than men. Nearly a quarter (24%) of women said they felt they have personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to their gender compared to nine percent of men.

Professionals from minority ethnic backgrounds represented a large proportion (39%) of candidates attempting to return to work in 2023. They were twice as likely as all other ethnic groups (34% vs average of 17%) to feel they have experienced bias in a recruitment process related to race or ethnicity, according to the report. Both men (29%) and women (25%) said they felt they have personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to their age. As a result, 30% of returners said their personal confidence has been affected by the recruitment challenges they face, and their low confidence remains a barrier.

The STEM Returners’ programme aims to eliminate barriers, by giving candidates real work experience and mentoring during their placement and helping them to seamlessly adjust to life back in work. More than 475 candidates have joined programmes across the UK since 2017.

Mena Maowed struggled to find a role after he came to the UK to seek asylum in 2016, despite 15 years of experience as a Civil Engineer in the construction industries of Egypt and UAE. However, following a STEM Returners programme with Balfour Beatty Vinci Systra JV in May last year, he was offered a permanent position as an Undertakings and Assurances Engineer at HS2 Old Oak Common station, and he has not looked back.

Mena said: “After facing challenges in finding a job that matched my career in the construction industry, discovering this programme felt like a beacon of hope. It’s been instrumental in restarting my career and has provided a structured path back into the industry, helped me regain confidence, and offered opportunities to apply my skills in meaningful ways. BBVS’s support has also been outstanding. From the starting stage, where I received exceptional guidance and advice, to the ongoing support post joining, the company has shown a genuine interest in my development.”

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