The government is to fund an initiative to help people get back into science, technology and mathematics (STEM) careers following a break – particularly women.
The 18-month-long scheme, which will be run by Women Returners and STEM Returners, will target those who have taken a career break to start a family or care for others.
‘STEM ReCharge’ will provide free career coaching, training and sector-specific upskilling and mentoring to around 100 people with tech or engineering experience who have taken a career break for a year or more, helping to address the technical and psychological barriers to returning to work, and building confidence.
More girls are studying STEM subjects at A-level in England, while women make up 50.1% of students accepted onto full-time STEM undergraduate courses. However, women in particular face barriers in securing and staying in a STEM role, often due to gaps on their CV after taking time out to have children, and are underrepresented in these professions, making up just 29.4% of the STEM workforce in 2020, according to government estimates.
Bias stopping STEM professionals returning after career break
STEM Returners research from last year found that bias against gender and age prevented many people from returning to a career in the sector. Thirty-eight per cent of returners experienced some form of bias in the recruitment process and 72% who had taken a career break found it difficult to return to work.
Today, on International Day of Women and Girls in Science (11 February), the Government Equalities Office has allocated £150,000 in funding for the project.
The STEM ReCharge pilot will provide support and training to technology and engineering returners, initially in the Midlands and north East of England. It will also provide support and training for employers on returner hiring and inclusive recruitment, with employer engagement events planned in Birmingham and Leeds in April.
Women Returners will support parents and carers back into work with employability support and refresher training, including one-to-one support.
Minister for women Maria Caulfield said: “STEM jobs make up a large proportion of our economy, but there is a shortage in STEM employees and 75,000 STEM returners who want to get back to work. We know there are women across the country who have left their jobs to care for elderly relatives or children, and want to return to work.
“This pilot will help organisations to recruit those who are too often overlooked because of a gap on their CV.”
Women Returners CEO Julianne Miles said: “There is a pressing need in these regions to provide this job-readiness support tailored to parents and carers returning to STEM, together with training for STEM employers to create more supported routes back to work for career returners. We’re confident that this comprehensive programme of support will help to accelerate the removal of the career break penalty in the UK.”
Natalie Desty, director of STEM Returners, said: “This programme will allow us to continue our mission to help create a diverse, inclusive and equitable STEM sector. We are especially delighted to be collaborating on this project with Women Returners, as working together we can achieve more.”
The North East and Midlands have been overlooked when it comes to returner programmes. Women Returners and STEM Returners analysis found that in 2020-22 there were 1.6 returner programmes per million people in the Midlands, 2.3 programmes in the North East and Yorkshire and 2.5 programmes in the North West, compared with 7.8 programmes in London and 5.3 programmes in the South West.
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