Well, here's a thing I never thought I'd say - I listened to the full budget speech last week and enjoyed it. A bit sad perhaps, but there were actually some quite funny quips in it. I thought it was quite short as budgets go, perhaps because there will be another one in the autumn. Most of the headlines have been about the fuss over whether self employed people should pay the same rate on NI contributions as people in employment, but there was a lot in the budget for HR practitioners, managers, and those generally with an interest in the management of people.
The Government announced a £5m initiative for returnships. What is a returnship I hear you say. Well it stands for returning professional internships. Theoretically open to men and women, however it was announced as part of International Women's Day, and in advance next year of the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, (which was the first legislative step towards giving men and women equal voting rights). This seems fair enough to me. In my experience it tends to be women who give up work to look after children not men, although I acknowledge there are exceptions to this.
How might it work ? Workshops on organisational culture, training sessions on the organisations IT systems, mentoring with a senior colleague , induction courses , rotations around different departments, time to update technical knowledge. All of these opportunities could be designed to give the returner the confidence they need to see that their skills and knowledge are still needed, together with the opportunity to get plugged back in mentally to the world of work.
I don't have any children. I sometimes hear some people who don't have kids bemoan the time off work the parents already enjoy. I'm not one of them. There were calls for Dad's to get longer, better paid, time off in the first year after a baby's birth, and for a culture of flexibility and senior part time jobs. I do wonder about senior part time jobs. The worry would be that the worker, in all likelihood a woman, would be getting a part time salary for a full time commitment, and would end up doing a large amount of unpaid hours. In my NHS career we went from Parental Leave being unpaid to paid. Applications for the leave rocketed. In the end about 6% of the workforce were absent from work on Parental Leave at any given time. This meant there were more staff on Parental Leave than on sick leave (5%). I do remember comments from employees without children saying that they felt discriminated against, and of course it all has to be paid for.
So as we are facing a new dawn in people management the construct of the modern workforce is changing, and we are entering an era when for the first time in history there will be five generations of employees working side by side. Each generation brings different attributes, skills, talents, and expectations of work and work life balance. Returnships, if well constructed, have to be welcomed as a bridge to deliver professional confidence and bring experienced women back into the workforce after career breaks. Is £5m enough ? I don't see how it can be, but at least it's a start. Financial services companies seem to be leading the way with Returnships. Perhaps it's time other's caught up.