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Want the best talent? Then target returners

David Barwell

International Women in Engineering Day this Saturday focuses attention on efforts to attract more women into our industry.

Great strides have been made by the sector to introduce strategies that facilitate the hiring and advancement of female talent. But the job is far from complete.

Career returner programmes can be a vital string to the bow of companies looking to hire more women, enabling them to target a previously untapped pool of highly qualified and experienced professionals.

Unfortunately, many people who take a career break struggle to get back into the workplace. Conscious and unconscious bias towards the gap in their CV plays a part. But actively recruiting these individuals and providing a tailored programme that supports their transition back into work could bring a wealth of experience and new skills to the industry.

Open to all

Aecom’s returners programme is aimed at people with mid- to senior-level experience who have been out of the workplace for a significant period and want to return. Reasons for career breaks vary, but the programme is open to all – many men have taken time out for similar reasons to women, from raising a family to travelling the world.

The first tranche of employees under our returners programme started in April and they are currently taking part in paid placements that include structured training, coaching and mentoring. The programme is designed to help them reacclimatise to the corporate landscape, build up their confidence and undertake any necessary training updates. Where possible, these will lead to a permanent role within the organisation.

“Our programme is not limited to technical disciplines, and our returners come from backgrounds in law, IT, garden design and even playwriting”

Key to the success of a returners programme is to open it up to a range of backgrounds. Our programme is not limited to technical disciplines, and our returners come from backgrounds in law, IT, garden design and even playwriting.

What’s important is matching transferable skills to specific business needs. Tapping into a fresh talent pool will bring greater diversity to businesses in our sector, which leads to more innovative approaches and better outcomes.

Acute imbalance

Returner programmes will be vital for tackling the sector’s skills shortage across all levels and disciplines. But aiming returner programmes at individuals with higher levels of experience can help address the acute gender imbalance felt at more senior levels in our industry. The sector must continue to work together to remove the barriers that can prevent women from reaching key positions and becoming future leaders.

We can no longer expect that the people the industry needs will find us. Many of the people we want to attract may not have considered a career in our sector. This is why companies need strategies that adopt a more inclusive approach.

Returner programmes can play a vital role in attracting and retaining the best female talent.

David Barwell is chief executive of Aecom UK and Ireland

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