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Back for Good: HR mentors helping parents make a career comeback


Working MumsI’d lost a big element of my personality and my character and just didn’t think it was possible to find something that would fit around the children while also allowing me to develop my skills,” says Anna, one of our Steps Ahead returner mentees.

Sounds familiar? That’s because Anna’s case is not isolated but rather the norm for parents and carers who are returning to the labour market after an extended career break to care for children or loved ones. Ours and other organisation’s research shows that many employers still don’t offer enough flexible working opportunities. This is why CIPD is working with Timewise on the Hire Me My Way campaign, which works with employers to promote and embed flexible and part-time working opportunities. Flexible working makes sense both from the employer and employee’s perspective; our research shows that 65% of flexible workers are satisfied or very satisfied with their work–life balance, compared with 47% of employees who don’t work flexibly. We also know that employers who embrace flexible working are better able to attract and retain a diverse pool of talent.

Tackling the supply of flexible working opportunities available is crucial to help parent and carer returners re-enter the labour market; as Anna’s case demonstrates, it is not enough. Many also need support around building confidence, help with employability skills, such as interview techniques and advice on thinking through career choices and job search approaches. Who would be better to provide that support than the person making the hiring and work practice decisions – in other words the HR professional?

This is where our Steps Ahead Mentoring programme comes in with its simple premise: we match our members, HR professionals, with jobseeker mentees to help them on their journey back into employment. Leanne Rutter is one of these volunteer mentors. In her day job she is a busy HR professional working at Amec Foster Wheeler. But in her role as a Steps Ahead mentor she uses her skills to help Anna in her return to a career. Our programme is not just about finding a job but the right job for the individuals involved.

Leanne worked with Anna, helping her to ‘re-focus on what she wanted’ and she also gave her ‘useful tips around the language that she should use at a job interview, which would differentiate her from other people.’

CIPD is the professional body for HR and thus well-placed to tackle both the demand and supply challenges of parents and carers returning to work. We support our members with guidance on diversity and flexible working issues but we can also leverage our network of more than 142,000 members who work in various HR roles to help jobseekers and returners with labour market access. As a charity, our purpose is to champion better work and working lives and this starts with everyone having access to the labour market.

As for our members, they love using their skills and experiences to help others. As Leanne put it, ”I think the programme is extremely rewarding for both the mentor and mentee.” She particularly enjoyed helping a returnee as she was in a similar situation a few years ago and was able to empathise with Anna.

Most importantly though, our Steps Ahead Mentoring programme is working – 7 out of 10 people who complete the programme go on to find work or work experience. This was also the case for Anna, who is now working on a contract with a housing group and has firm intentions to stay in touch with her mentor, Leanne.

Steps Ahead Mentoring is provided free of charge for parents and carers with a household income of £40,000 or less. It has been available in North West England (since May) and in the Midlands since October 2016 and will be rolled out across the country over the next few months.

Click here to see if you qualify – or to register your interest for when the programme rolls out to other areas.

Katerina Rudiger is Chief Community Officer at the CIPD.

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