Building inclusion through supporting returners

The STEM Returners programme exists to help people get back to work after a break or change course, including dads.


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 the United Arab Emirates.

However, after taking part in 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 [pictured right] 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.”

He is one of a growing number of male returners who have been helped back to work through the STEM Returners programme.

The programme, started by Natalie Desty in 2017 to return diverse and lost skills to an industry that needs them, works with leading STEM organisations to help people who have been on a career break return to work. Returners face an uphill battle when they have a gap on their CV due to outdated HR processes and unconscious bias. Over the past six years, STEM Returners has helped nearly 500 people back into permanent employment through 12-week placements. They include dads who have taken time out to be with their children.

Jack Bayliss [pictured top] applied for a STEM Returners programme so he could spend more time with his newborn son. For four years, Jack worked in the mineral exploration industry, travelling the world for long periods of time, and often working in remote places. He enjoyed his work and spending time on drill sites, completing geophysics surveys, and mapping vast areas of land.

However, the birth of his son changed his priorities and he started to look for a role at home, but unfortunately the industry he had spent so long in doesn’t really exist in the UK. However, the returner programme at SLR Consulting allowed him to transfer his expertise and valuable skills to a new sector and he has been able to contribute to a range of projects; from offshore wind, to quarry development and mineral extraction.

He explained: “The thought of having to ‘start over’ in a new industry is daunting. This programme gave me the opportunity to expand my skillset and diversify my knowledge in an area different to my previous experience, whilst appreciating the skills I can offer. Within the STEM industries, this is relatively uncommon. It has also given me the unique opportunity to make a positive difference and ‘make sustainability happen’, while accessing leading technology and learn from industry experts.”

Other men who have completed the returner programme have also used it to change sectors. William joined Johnson Matthey as a Senior Process Engineer in their Hydrogen Technology department last year, aiding in the manufacture of catalytic membranes for fuels cells and hydrogen production from electrolysers. He had previously worked for a company that specialised in pipe bending and fabrication predominantly for the automotive industry. He then moved within the same parent company to a site in Wolverhampton which manufactured cold roll formed products. In 2019 he moved to the logistics and delivery industry, but wanted to move back to manufacturing to a role which would have a positive impact on bringing down our carbon footprint.

Diversity and inclusion

Desty says STEM Returners is keen to encourage diversity and inclusion [EDI]. Speaking about last week’s report on EDI which highlighted that some forms of training are ineffective, she emphasised the need to recommit to evidence-based approaches. She said:  “I share the frustration of there being a lot of ‘all talk and not enough follow through’. We have had years of talking and initiatives which hasn’t resulted in enough action. However, ED&I understanding is vital to make cultural change in organisations that unknowingly put up barriers to individuals joining, returning and progressing their careers on an equitable playing field. The theory and knowledge are the foundations creating workplaces which are rich in diversity, and where everyone feels of value.

“However, they are just that, foundations. The building – the meaningful impact, that actually has a positive effect on people’s lives – must come from action. But they don’t function without the other. For example, there is great value in setting up Employee Relations Groups, but if these do not have executive sponsors, budgets, measurable targets/outcomes, they will struggle to make waves/meaningful impact…By embracing inclusion for what it is, the act of allowing many different types of people to do something and treating them fairly and equally, then we all stand to benefit.”

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