Employability Programme Roundtable

Workplace - Nov 29, 2017

On the 21st November we held our Employability Programme Roundtable. The event was hosted by Standard Life and there was great participation by many member companies interested in this area. Learn some of the key features of both the Standard Life and Vodafone Returners programme that were discussed.

Michael McKenna, the CEO of Standard Life, set the scene on how Standard Life’s Returners’ Programm the ReStart programme came to be developed. Through a combination of looking at their own workforce with regards to diversity and inclusion (age, gender, ethnicity), as well as their business vision of having an impact in the societies they operate in, Standard Life found a gap that they wanted to pursue around returnships.

Standard Life’s returners Programme

Standard Life and Business in the Community Ireland (BITCI) developed a unique Programme aimed at integrating returners back into the workplace – ReStart was developed.

The key features of  designing ReStart are:

  1. Criteria for candidate selection: from the outset a key criterion was to draw people, men and women, from different backgrounds who were facing challenges getting back into the workforce. The target age group was 35+. People who were out of the workplace for more than two years, for any reason, where eligible.
  2. Sourcing candidates: Through its experience with employment programmes, BITCI has a wide network of stakeholders and was able to draw on these to raise awareness of the programme. If you would like more information on these sources contact your BITCI account manager.
  3. Designing the programme: BITCI held a series of information sessions with potential candidates to understand their barriers and challenges with finding work. This was used to develop the structure of the 4-week programme. The programme took place in Standard Life’s offices, over 2 full days each week:
    1. Week One – Knowing Yourself
    2. Week Two – What to expect in the workplace today
    3. Week Three – Developing your personal strategy for getting the job that you want and what will suit your current life style and the challenges that you may be facing.
    4. Week Four – Interviews and feedback on how to be better prepared going into a new job.
  4. Delivering the ReStart Programme: Mary Roche from BITCI led the programme which focused on coaching and self-reflection as well as group work. Speakers from Standard Life brought their perspective on work and the workplace.

Learning from this pilot programme for future ReStart programmes in 2018: a process of regular feedback meant that learning happened throughout the four weeks. 100% of the candidates stayed the course which is an excellent statistic for a programme of this type.

Outcomes: A six month work placement was offered to  one of the candidates at the end of the programme and four of the other candidates are through to a 2nd round interview for permanent roles within Standard Life.

Vodafone returners programme

Vodafone’s returners programme has been operating since 2011 and was initially developed to bring women back into the business in response to a gender diversity challenge. Since then, the gender gap has narrowed but the success of the programme was such that it continues to run and is open to men and women who have had a career break for any reason.

This programme was aligned to the recruitment process with candidates applying for roles in the field that they would be most suited for. This was a 6-month programme which was aimed at fitting the needs of the individual and therefore a flexy work culture was adopted. This significantly helped these returners integrate more naturally back into a working environment and at the end of the 6-month programme would be more likely to succeed when taking on a permanent role within the organisation. The programme worked on a buddy system with a lot of feedback from managers, which aided in the learning opportunities and helped candidates feel a part of that working environment.

Challenges and Recommendations

  1. Sourcing candidates for the programme can be challenging. If you would like more information on these sources contact your BITCI account manager.
  2. Timing of the programme needs to be well thought out as returners may initially require flexibility regarding working hours e.g. not having the training days on a Monday and a Friday, as mid-week is preferable
  3. The size of the group is important for group dynamics and to build a peer network. Standard Life recommended 8 to 10 as an ideal number
  4. Technology changes can be daunting – Vodafone used their digital natives (a.k.a. digital ninjas) to reverse mentor people
  5. Many workplaces have moved to open plan which may not be familiar to returners. The opportunity to see the workplace and meet other employees who work in that environment can demystify the challenge.
  6. Wording of advertisements can be the difference between success and failure. For instance Standard Life’s programme was aimed at people aged 35+ but they advertised it as 35 to 67 to be explicit about the willingness to consider older candidates.   Just saying ‘equal opportunities employer’ is not explicit enough.
  7. Similarly, it’s important to state upfront how much flexibility is on offer and to be aware of the impact of word choice. An ad suggesting travel may be required, where travel is a minor part of the job, may have the effect of discouraging potential candidates. Textio is one tool that supports organisations to tailor job descriptions and ads to the required audience.
  8. Unconscious bias when hiring – Age and gaps in CVs can be major stumbling blocks for people applying for a job. Vodafone trains all recruiting managers to be aware of bias in their ‘Licence to hire’ training.  It’s useful to check that your hiring team or hiring agency is not filtering CVs using an algorithm that works against the goals of your programme.
  9. For people coming through a returnship and starting a new job, the role of their manager or supervisor will be critical to their success. Managers need to be aware of the challenges that these individuals may face. One benefit of managers doing mock interviews with candidates on a returnship is that it challenges their own unconscious bias and may help them understand better the support that a returner may need.

If you would like more information on this topic please contact your BITCI account manager.


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