There are many paths back to the workplace after a having children, but get the support you need, says Sinead Ryan
Returning to work after a baby is a bittersweet time, and difficult for a mum juggling the guilt of leaving their newborn with (maybe) the relief of being among adults again. So imagine the added challenge when you’ve been out of the workforce for years on a career break, concerned your skills are so out of date you’ll be useless.
A survey from New Ireland found that 56pc of women returned to work after family leave in the last five years with a further 10pc hoping to. While 81pc have one or two children, just 14pc have more than three, showing the cost of childcare can be a financial barrier.
Women are already in lower-paid and more part-time jobs than men, and after extended leave, 78pc are returning to less senior roles. Three-quarters worry about work/life balance and childcare, reporting nervousness and anxiety with 18pc ‘excited’.
Career psychologist Sinead Brady who runs courses for returning women (mumtalks.ie) says understanding your skillset is vital. “Confidence is the number one barrier around returning to work. But I ask mums to focus on transferable skills. The work you do as a parent is very relevant, huge organisational skills are needed, so it’s important to focus on those, rather than the job itself.
“Focus on ‘momentous moments’ – something stand-out in your career and consider what you did to succeed there. Look for evidence of your ability and don’t negate the fact that it may have been five or 10 years ago.
“Also, give yourself time to adjust. Any employer who expects you to have all the answers on day one isn’t one you want to work for anyway.”
Many women worry about the ‘gap’ in their career. Brady says the ‘half life’ of any skill is five years. “That means of the things you learn today, half will be obsolete in five years anyway. Upskilling, whether you’re in or out of the workforce, is equally important so you become a leader of your own learning.”
Brady recommends free online courses (see panel), or ‘reverse mentoring’ a graduate. “A student can help enormously with say, social media training, and you can offer to swap some of your own skills in return.”
Finally, she recommends that for added confidence, find a personal shopper to help with your wardrobe. “Many services are free in shops, you give them your budget and let them help you buy work attire.”
State Education Programmes
The Government has plenty of sponsored programmes to help re-skilling those returning to work. The Pathways to Work initiative includes Skillnet (skillnetireland.ie), which partners with 15,000 companies to provide education and placement across a range of industries.
Solas (solas.ie) is run through local authorities to provide full- and part-time education courses across a range of skills.
Women ReBOOT (womenreboot.ie) is for IT professionals, a six-month process over 1-2 days per month. Participants receive Career Transition workshops and individual mentoring with work placements in tech companies.
Back to Work Family Dividend
This allowance is paid where someone who is on social welfare returns to employment. If qualified, you get a weekly payment for two years equivalent to the increase in ‘qualified children’ that was being paid on jobseeker’s benefit or the one parent family payment.
For women who have been out of the workforce this scheme lets them ‘disallow’ up to 20 years for State pension purposes. If you’ve been minding children under 12, those years will be treated as if you had been working and claiming ‘stamps’.
Massive Open Online Courses
There are lots of ways you can re-train and up-skill if you’re returning to work after a career break. Some are free, others you will need to pay for so it’s worth planning your return up to a year in advance. Do you need a course to be accredited to a university, for instance, or is it just a brush-up of skills? Can you learn online in your own time, and what will it all cost? Some charge just for a certificate, or LinkedIn attachment.
Here are some resources for MOOCs (massive open online courses):
Free and paid programmes. Includes “Cloud Computing” run by Dublin City University and University College Cork over 6 weeks for free.
Many free ‘self-pace’ courses including “Project Management” and “Business Communications” run by University of British Columbia. Seven weeks, 3-5 hours per week. Others carry a charge and accreditation. Also seemooc.org for free courses.
American-based free and paid study programmes. Includes “Positive Psychology Specialisation”, 20 hours with University of Pennsylvania, for free.