In his March budget, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt made it clear that the government intends to support individuals returning to work. He announced various financial support schemes including an increase in free childcare for every child over nine months old and further support for those receiving Universal Credit.

But perhaps more interesting, was the introduction of ‘returnerships’ – an amalgamation of Apprenticeships, Skills Bootcamps and Sector-Based Work Academy Programmes (SWAPs) designed to support those returning to work (particularly the over 50s) to identify a clear path to the their new career.

While welcomed in many quarters, though, these government interventions are just one step on the road to breaking down barriers to returning to work.

A report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that, of those aged 50 – 65 who left their job during the pandemic, 76% did so for reasons other than retirement.

The main reasons given were:

  • Change of lifestyle (17%)
  • Coronavirus pandemic (17%)
  • Redundancy (17%)
  • Stress (15%)

Regardless of the reasons why people have been out of work, re-entering the world of employment can be a daunting experience. Even somebody returning to the same role after, say 12 months of maternity leave, can find they’re greeted by new team members, a hybrid way of working, different technology and updated legislation.

For others taking on the challenge of a career change can be exciting but nonetheless scary. And this change of employment may be something that was thrown upon them by a previous employer relocating or an injury or illness that prevents them returning to their previous role or industry.

So, the question for business leaders is how do they support people returning to work and help them become thriving members of the team?

Common barriers to returning to work

The most common barriers to returning to work include:

  • Lack of necessary skills
  • Lack of self-belief
  • Feelings of being ‘over the hill’
  • Physical impairment
  • Uncertainty about how to find a new career

The solution to overcoming all of these lies just as much with business leaders as it does with any government department or agency.

What can employers do to encourage those returning to work to join their team?

Anyone who has been involved in recruitment or leadership will know that attitude and transferable skills are key to successful integration of new team members. But for those looking for a new career, this is not always so obvious.

For example, somebody who has been a carpenter for 20 years may assume their only talent is in working with wood. But the likelihood is they also have a good eye for detail, good planning habits, flexibility to cope with unexpected challenges, and maybe even experience in budgeting and project management.

So, the trick for employers is to communicate the competencies they’re looking for and encourage potential applicants to think more broadly about what they can offer.

The role of coaching in overcoming barriers when returning to work

Despite all the best efforts of recruiters to give new starters confidence, the first few weeks in a new job are often overwhelming. Typically, this time is spent doing an induction, meeting the team and generally getting a feel for the role and the company.

These are important initial steps on the journey back to work. But the real work begins once the honeymoon period is over. And this goes for the employer as much as the employee. For many new starters, the real workplace feels very different from the sanitised environment of classroom work and role play scenarios. And this can bring about fresh doubts in the minds of those new starters about whether this role really is for them.

A robust coaching culture tackles these issues head on. Whereas training is often very generic, coaching involves manager, leaders and supervisors supporting individuals to identify specific areas of development. It’s where what makes sense theoretically is applied practically in everyday tasks.

When should you start coaching those who are returning to work?

It might sound early, but the time to start coaching staff is the first day they arrive in the workplace. Of course, this doesn’t mean you get straight on with analysing their performance and identifying areas for improvement before their first cup of tea is drunk. But you should introduce one of the most fundamental aspects of good coaching – communication.

Coaching is a two-way exercise. Learners shouldn’t be passive recipients of ideas and information. They should be actively involved in identifying areas for improvement. Often, the coaches’ role in solving those problems is not to tell the learner what to do, but to tease ideas and suggestions out of them. This is where those transferable skills can be invaluable. Not only can they provide a different perspective on a common problem within the organisation, but they can also give learners confidence.

Talking to new starters, asking them questions that draw out their confidence and competencies, and showing them from the outset that you’re there to support them, will set the tone for the two-way communication and coaching that will help them fulfil their potential.

Richmond supports business leaders in creating bespoke training packages for their organisation, utilising apprenticeships, on-site training and e-learning to upskill staff with as little disruption to business operations as possible.

To talk to us about how our skills coaches can help you get the most out of returnerships and those coming back to employment for any other reason, call today on 01244 344322 or enquire online.

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