Cable urged to back ‘returnships’ scheme for women in STEM

Cable urged to back ‘returnships’ scheme for women in STEM

Prospect union and others called on Vince Cable today (Friday) to introduce a “returnship” scheme for women scientists and engineers who have taken maternity or career breaks, in the wake of a survey revealing just how many obstacles such women face.

"Returnships can help address the UK’s skills shortage in science, technology, engineering and maths, as well as creating a more equal and diverse workforce,” said Sue Ferns, the union’s director of communications and research.

The request was made in a letter to the business secretary from Prospect, Women in Manufacturing, the Women’s Engineering Society and Talent Retention Solution.

“Our idea is for employers to work with other skills organisations, trade unions and other stakeholders to create returnships to bring women back from extended leave,” Ferns added. “An alarming 60% of respondents to our survey identified serious barriers to returning to work.

“These include lack of training and guidance; not enough opportunities for flexible or part-time working; too little pay against the costs of childcare; and problems with location. Returnships are a simple and effective way to help women back on to the career ladder after time out.”

Dawn Bonfield, president of the Women’s Engineering Society, said: “The employee is given a short-term contract by a participating company, and follows a set programme of activity, including monitoring and support, designed to help bring them up to speed. Where available, it opens the door to permanent job opportunities as well.”

The letter proposes that funding could come from the Department for Business’s Women Engineers fund. All four signatories have offered to help draw up a proposal that would include sharing good practice and lessons learned.

*You can download Women in STEM: are you in or out? Survey overview from It was completed by over 5,000 respondents between May and September 2014.