Supporting people back to STEM roles

A Nottingham woman has described the returners programme which helped her find a role after a carer break as “empowering” and a “positive career experience”.

The programme was run by STEM Returners for Binnies, an RSK company, last year. It was so successful, Binnies will hold another programme with 10 new positions at its sites in Chester, Redhill and Glasgow and will include roles such as geotechnical engineer, Mechanical Design Engineer and project manager.

Jessica Panayiotou took park in the first programme and is now working as a project manager in the asset management team.

Jessica graduated from Nottingham Trent University with a degree in business and economics and an MSc in project management, before working in the rail industry for two years. She felt, however, that the rail industry wasn’t for her and decided to find a new role. Despite her experience of working on complex projects, the rigid nature of STEM recruitment processes meant that finding a role was not easy.


Jessica is a keen ruby player and currently plays rugby union for Loughborough Lightning and rugby league for Salford Red Devils. She explained: “Specialising in project management rather than coming from an engineering background for example, put me on the back foot a little. Mostly, you are employed based on industry experience, but I haven’t worked in different industries. I was struggling to find a role that fit my personality, me age and my ‘limited’ experience, I needed someone to take a chance and that’s what STEM Returners did for me.

“This has been the most positive career move. I was feeling unconfident in my abilities, but the Binnies team have given me the boost and flexibility to deliver projects confidently. I feel empowered and I have never been happier in employment.”

With offices in the UK and beyond, Binnies delivers sustainable and resilient water and environment projects around the world.

Keith Hamilton, Principal Consultant in the asset management team at Binnies, said: “The STEM Returners approach has been of real benefit to our team. The people who are taking part have already had real-world experience and know what is expected of them and therefore need less coaching or nudging to get into the groove, as opposed to graduates or people with less experience in the workplace.

“The opportunity to diversify our teams also gives us more flexibility in delivering projects. By broadening the skill base, opportunities that were maybe closed to us before are now more realistic. We are expanding into markets that are beyond our core business, so we need the knowledge and expertise from within those markets to help us deliver our services to them in the most effective manner possible. We are looking forward to running our second programme with STEM Returners.”

STEM Returners, based in Hampshire, will help source the candidates and support them with mentoring and careers coaching services.

STEM Returners was launched in 2017 by Natalie Desty after she saw how hard it was for people to return to STEM after a career break. They work with companies to facilitate 12-week paid returnships, which allow candidates to be re-integrated into an inclusive environment upon their return to the industry.

Natalie Desty, Director of STEM Returners said: “Sadly, experiences like Jessica’s are common. The recruitment processes within STEM are still searching for a ‘unicorn’ candidate and do not consider people’s transferable skills or wiliness to learn, but our programmes aim to change that. We are delighted to be continuing our partnership with Binnies to support highly skilled people back into the industry they love.

“Only by partnering with industry leaders, like Binnies, will we make vital changes in STEM recruitment practices, helping those who find it challenging to return to the sector and improve diversity and inclusion.”

Since STEM Returners first launched in 2017, more than 400 STEM Returners candidates have joined programmes across the UK.