Supporting parents and carers return to work

Women Returners and STEM Returners have launched the second phase of a successful return-to-work support programme, which has helped more than 40 parents and carers with engineering and tech experience get back to their careers.

Supported by the Minister for Women, Maria Caulfield, STEM ReCharge is providing career coaching, job skills training, mentoring and technical refresh sessions to parents and carers in the midlands and north of England who want to return to the engineering and tech industries following a career break.

It is delivered by return-to-work experts Women Returners and STEM Returners, and funded by the Government’s Equality Hub, backed by Minister for Women and Equalities Kemi Badenoch who told Parliament about the “full wealth” of experience those taking part in the programme have.

Insight and lessons learned from the first group of returners, who completed the programme in June and July, are being used to support the second phase of the programme, which will start in October.


Priyanka Bondre took part in the first cohort and her experience is reflective of many returners. In 2019, she left her job in India to join her husband in the UK and then took an extended career break to care for their young daughter. But despite a bachelor’s degree in computer science, an MBA in IT Management and more than 10 years’ experience in IT, Priyanka still found it difficult to get back into the workplace.

With her daughter starting school in September, STEM ReCharge came at just the right time and was the boost she needed. “It has been wonderful to be a part of the STEM Recharge programme,” Priyanka said. “The programme gave me a confidence boost to resume my professional journey. I am enrolled in a Data Engineer bootcamp and thrilled to reskill and re-enter the workforce!”

The positive impact of the programme has also been felt by Adele, from the south midlands. Adele worked for an international environmental consultancy, before taking a break of nearly six years to care for her three children and elderly parents. During this time, she gained several transferable skills when she was elected to serve as a hospital trust governor and in her role on the committee who successfully litigated in a diesel emissions lawsuit. However, when she wanted to return to a permanent role, she has still found it a challenge.

She said the STEM ReCharge programme has allowed her to connect with other returners and gave her confidence and motivation about going back into the workplace. “It’s a lonely place when looking to return to work and really valuable to meet others who are on the same journey,” Adele added.

There are currently around 75,000 people (the majority women) who are economically inactive due to caring responsibilities in the UK, who had a STEM occupation before their career and who would like to return to work in the future, according to government figures.

STEM ReCharge is being delivered by Women Returners and STEM Returners and is available to returners in the midlands and north of England after analysis carried out by the organisations showed these areas have far fewer returner programmes than southern areas. From 2020 to 2022 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.

With the latest projections suggesting a net growth in engineering roles of 2.8% compared to 2.3% in all occupations, which will result in 173,000 new engineering and technology jobs by 2030*; and estimates from Microsoft that, globally, there will be 149 million new jobs in software, data, AI, machine learning and cyber by 2025, and a recent report from Tech Talent Charter and Code first Girls stating that half of women in tech drop out by the age of 35**, there is a pressing need to support qualified STEM professionals back to work.

But parents and carers often face an uphill battle when trying to return to professional-level work after a long career break, facing a range of challenges from a lack of self-confidence to widespread recruiter bias against people without recent experience.

STEM ReCharge tackles these barriers with a comprehensive programme coaching, training and mentoring as well as connections with employers. The project is also training local employers to be more inclusive of returners in their recruitment practices.

The first STEM ReCharge cohort supported 42 participants with an impressive range of qualifications and experience including an MBA in IT Management, a first-class Computing degree and more than 15 years in Project Management.

Minister for Women, Maria Caulfield MP, said: “I’d like to encourage more parents and carers to take advantage of this brilliant programme, which has already seen such success. We know there is a shortage in STEM employees and 75,000 STEM returners who want to get back to work.

“Matching candidates with a wealth of skills and qualifications with employers who need experienced people is a win for business, equality, and the economy. That’s why we are investing in returners.”

Julianne Miles, CEO of Women Returners, said: “It’s fantastic to see that we’re already making such a positive impact with the STEM ReCharge support programme. After a decade of supporting professionals to return to work, we’re well aware of the multiple challenges returners face, particularly in technical fields. With our first STEM ReCharge cohort, we’re already seeing the power of a targeted support programme, rebuilding confidence, skills, knowledge and networks, to enable these talented returners to get back into great jobs. We’re really looking forward to welcoming the second cohort in October.”

Natalie Desty, Director of STEM Returners, said: “To see the positive impact STEM ReCharge is already having is very rewarding. As an industry, we need to do more to increase the opportunity for returners in STEM and lower the barriers they face when they try to resume their careers. We would like to encourage returners and employers to take advantage of this free programme and work together to help more parents and carers return to work.”