New job schemes to support engineers return to work after a career break

Engineers and people working in STEM across Scotland have the opportunity to break through the so-called ‘career break curse’ after a new job scheme has been launched in two of the country’s biggest firms. Both SSE and BAE Systems have teamed up with STEM Returners to establish a 12-week paid placement to help people return to work after a career break.

The Returners Programme is being seen as an important step to help plug the skills gap facing the UK STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) sectors.

The firms have launched their schemes at the same time as STEM Returners release the results of their annual survey of a nationally representative group of more than 750 STEM professionals on a career break who are attempting to return to work or who have recently returned to work. The STEM Returners Index, which was carried out in collaboration with the Women’s Engineering Society, asked a range of questions to understand their experiences of trying to re-enter the STEM sector.

Published on International Women in Engineering Day (23 June), the survey showed women trying to return to the engineering industry after a career break are more likely to experience recruitment bias than men.

Twenty-seven percent of women in the survey said they feel they have personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to their gender compared to 8% of men, while 30% of women said they feel they have personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to childcare responsibilities compared to 6% of men.

Both men (39%) and women (43%) said they felt have personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to a perceived lack of recent experience.

The Returners Programme at SSE will provide jobs in Glasgow, Perth, Inverness and Aberdeen, across its Renewables, Transmission, and Distribution businesses, whilst a separate programme runs concurrently in their Thermal operations. The programme at BAE Systems will be their site in Glasgow, with a focus on Maritime Engineering specific roles.

Natalie Desty, Director of STEM Returners, said: “The UK engineering industry needs to recruit 182,000 engineers annually to keep up with demand – this is not news. 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 are bearing the brunt of this challenge.

“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.

“We are delighted to be working with BAE Systems and SSE to provide a way for people who have taken a career break to get back to the profession they can contribute so much to and show other STEM organisations that they are clearly missing a major opportunity to get highly skilled and talented people – particularly women – back into the industry.”

As the leading generator of renewable electricity in the UK and Ireland and one of the largest electricity network companies in the UK, SSE has a firm commitment to improve diversity and inclusion. A pilot returners scheme recently took place, in which every person went on to be offered a permanent role within the company.

John Stewart (pictured), Director of HR at SSE, said: “We’re delighted to roll out the STEM Returners scheme following a successful pilot. There is real momentum behind the drive to build a clean green recovery, but we need the people to help us do it, STEM Returners will become a vital tool in helping us reach skilled employees who will be a real asset to SSE.”

This is not the first time BAE Systems’ has run the Returners Programme with STEM Returners – the previous maritime returners programme saw a 100% success rate of participants being retained in permanent positions.