Returner Programmes: What are they?

Returner programmes were introduced in the UK a few years ago as a way to address the gender pay gap and encourage parents, carers and others back to the workplace. But how do they work and how can you access them?

Back to work


Many parents need to take time out from the world of work to look after small children and vulnerable relatives. But restarting after a career break is notoriously difficult and thousands of parents end up unable to return to their former profession.

Returner programmes were introduced a few years ago both to support people back to work and help employers benefit from a pool of highly-skilled and experienced individuals. They are sometimes called career returner programmes, or career relaunch programmes.

What is a returner programme?

Returner programmes are schemes run by employers to help people return to their former area of work after a career break. They are aimed at reducing the gender pay gap and retaining key skills and experience.

Statistics show that the gender pay gap for women in their twenties is less than 7%, but widens to 25% for women in their forties. The Institute for Fiscal Studies found that women earn less when restarting after a career break. The reduction in earnings is around 2% per year spent out of paid work.

A returner programme often provides a set paid placement (e.g. six months) with a structured learning and development programme to update people’s knowledge and build confidence.

Career returner programmes are now offered in a wide range of sectors, from medical roles and nursing to teaching and social work, and key private sector professions like engineering, accountancy, banking, construction and technology.

What is a returner?

Returner programmes are not just for parents. They are open to anyone who has taken a break of two years or more – including people who took time out of employment to go freelance or set up a small business. Some returner programmes specifically target those over 50 for example.

Types of returner programme

Different types of return to work programme are available to suit your priorities and skills.

Some focus on helping you prepare to return to work – such as the CIPD’s Steps Ahead programme which matches you with HR mentors to help with CVs, job search and interview practice.

Other programmes offer paid internships with the potential for permanent positions, and you can also find some hiring schemes where you can move straight into a permanent role.

Take a look at the options in your own area of work – each profession offers slightly different approaches, perhaps seeking or looking to enhance certain skills. Some schemes may be part-time, flexible or act as a form of apprenticeship. There are different programmes to suit all kinds of requirements.

What you can expect from a returner programme

Most provide training, mentoring, networking opportunities and support to gain new skills. There is normally a focus on rebuilding professional confidence as part of coming back to the workplace.

The overall purpose is to unearth existing talent and introduce skilled people to hiring managers. The long term goal is to normalise career breaks and stop penalising people for taking them.

Where to find Return to Work programmes has a Returner Programmes page listing the latest live return to work programmes. You can also search big employers in your professional sector to see what career relaunch programmes they have on offer.

For a real life case study, find out how Rob, a working Dad found his return to work experience in this article.

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