STEM Returners has now successfully returned 200 professionals to employment after a career break!
Since 2017 we’ve been working with leading STEM companies to enable highly qualified and experienced STEM professionals to gain employment after a career break, through facilitating paid short-term employment placements.
It was founded by Natalie Desty after she saw how hard it was for STEM professionals who had been out of employment for a period of time, to re-enter their profession.
Natalie said: “These talented, educated and dedicated people – especially women and candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds – were being let down by outdated recruitment methods and bias that prevent them from getting an interview, let alone being offered the role.
“There is a perception that a career break automatically leads to a deterioration of skills. But the reality is, that many people on a career break keep themselves up to date with their industry, are able to refresh their skills easily when back in work and have developed new transferable skills that would actually benefit their employers.”
Natalie established a small pilot returners programme with BAE Systems, which saw a group of returners take part in a paid placement for 12 weeks. It was a great success for both the returners and BAE Systems, and since then internationally renowned firms such as Leonardo UK, Babcock International, SSE and Meggitt have all launched returners programmes. They have just placed their 200th professional on a programme.
Natalie added: “We are extremely proud to place 200 STEM professionals on programmes with some of the world’s leading firms. The UK engineering industry needs to recruit 182,000 engineers annually to keep up with demand. But despite this very clear and desperate skills shortage, 61% of STEM professionals on a career break are finding the process of attempting to return to work either difficult or very difficult and women and people from minority groups bear the brunt of this challenge.
“STEM organisations are clearly missing a major opportunity to get highly skilled, talented (do we want to say just females here or diverse candidates?) back into the industry and need to do more to improve their practices and challenge recruitment bias in the system. If they do this, the industry will be a more inclusive place that will enable more people to thrive.”
One person who has benefited from STEM Returners is Cathy Cojeen, from Southampton, who undertook a placement with Leonardo UK, as a Project Engineer.
After graduating with an engineering degree from the University of Southampton, Cathy was the only female employee at an engineering consultancy firm. She then went into STEM education and for 21 years (1999 to 2020) worked to inspire more young girls to get into science, maths and engineering. After having her own children, Cathy was ready for a new challenge and wanted to get back into the engineering industry but felt she would not match the specifications on job adverts.
She said: “Every engineering job I looked at wanted two to five years’ experience and IT skills that I was not proficient in. I discussed my prospects with a few contacts and reached out to people on LinkedIn, but I came to the conclusion that my CV would never be considered unless I had up-to-date skills, so I decided to return to university to study a masters in engineering. The future was very uncertain for me and several friends voiced their concern that I was leaving a secure job in teaching to pursue a previous career, especially during the pandemic.
“Whilst saving to become a student again, during my last year of teaching, I saw the STEM Returners scheme. I was fortunate to be placed with a very supportive and encouraging line manager and I threw myself in to it. I’ve been learning so much and I feel like I add value to the projects. I am now a Project Engineering Lead, responsible for the overall engineering output on infra-red detector and space and astronomy projects.
“I am a firm believer that we are life-long learners, but that growth and change isn’t always easy. Career breaks should not set people back. We still have ability, knowledge and often transferable skills to make a valuable contribution to any company.”
More information about STEM Returners is available from www.stemreturners.com.