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Returning to Your Engineering Career

Written by: Charlotte Rogers
Published on: 17 Jan 2022

Return to work Hero Image

Many of today’s workforce will end up taking time away from work, so how do you make that return after a career break?

There can be many reasons as to why someone takes time away from their career. Whether that be because you want to start a family, childcare, redundancy or even sabbatical, there shouldn’t be anything stopping you from returning to your career once you are ready. It’s pretty common knowledge now that modern professionals are increasingly unlikely to follow the ‘traditional’ career routes that past generations stuck to, as a result of changing employment patterns and fluctuating personal circumstances. Even though we are getting used to people taking career breaks, “Legislative progress on issues like maternity and parental leave recognise this reality to some extent; however, there is still some way before career breaks are culturally normalised at work.” notes Sue Ferns, deputy general secretary at trade union Prospect, which represents scientists, engineers and managers.

Career breaks and returning to work is more than just something women go through now. It’s an opportunity for all workers and paternity leave is widely seen as a good opportunity and they are grabbing it. So how can you prepare for returning to work?

The Skills shortage

Opinions are changing, albeit more slowly than some people would like, and employers are waking up to the untapped skills that potential returners, as they’ve become known, can bring to the table. A growing number of returners schemes are appearing across the engineering and technology sector, in part bolstered by the fact the industry continues to face a chronic skills shortage.

According to the IET’s most recent ‘Engineering and Technology Skills and Demand in Industry’ report (2019), Around half of the employers surveyed (46%) expect to grow their engineering and technology workforce in the next three years. That’s compared with just 3% who anticipate a decrease. Companies cannot afford to overlook the huge pool of engineers looking to return to work, especially when they have the skills they are looking for. Gone are the days where a career gap looks bad on your CV. Companies want skills, transferable skills, and diversity.

“One in five companies (19%) make particular efforts to attract and retain women in engineering and technical roles beyond observing statutory equality requirements (up from 15% in 2017). This includes measures like implementing transparent policies, having a positive attitude to flexible/part-time working, providing structured career paths with breaks and offering back-to-work advice and coaching.” (IET;2019)

Transferable Skills

During periods away from the workplace, whether that be for personal reasons or to try something new in your career, returners will often have developed transferable skills through a variety of other roles and activities. Skills that take time to learn, like good team-working skills, communication skills and resilience.

Your transferable skills can be very valuable to employers, these skills can be a part of your personality and what makes you a good engineer. Some may just come naturally and others you may have picked up along the way. Either way, having transferable or ‘soft skills’ shows that you have something extra to bring to the role. Yes, employers want a good engineer, but they also want someone who will go the extra mile. Someone who will be a good leader, think outside the box and be a valued team member. If you are nervous about returning to the workplace and you are thinking about something extra to add to your CV, highlight these kinds of skills. Your career break, no matter what the reasoning, would have taught you something. Talk about what you did, what inspired you and employers will see the time you had away was valuable. A great thing to talk about in your cover letter.

Conquer your confidence problems

Sometimes, returning to work isn’t the problem, but the way you feel about work can be. If you are ready for the step to return to your engineering career, but you feel something holding you back, are you really ready? This is a question only you can answer, but sometimes the idea can be scarier than the action. You may be out of touch with a few things, but that’s nothing you can’t handle.

Work through your CV and cover letter one step at a time. Apply for roles slowly and prepare well before the interviews. Take small steps towards your goal and things hopefully won’t feel as overwhelming as they could. If you are feeling anxious, don’t ignore it, that won’t make the problems disappear. But if you do feel like it is really holding back, talk to someone. If you do need the extra boost, take the advice, and take it slow and remember that you can change your mind.

There are tailored schemes

A lot of companies are now offering back to work schemes to help people with career gaps. Most returners projects are business-specific, with companies developing their own bespoke programmes to support engineers looking to return to the sector. And what they entail can differ greatly; from short refresher training schemes and well-established networking groups through to 12-week paid internships or permanent position returner schemes.

Think about what career you want to return to. Are you looking for something in the same sector, are you looking for a similar job title that you had before and what kind of company do you want to work for?

For those considering a career break or wanting to return to work after extended leave, there are now a wide variety of schemes, and practical support, on offer. Returners can seek advice from everyone from former colleagues, trade unions, professional bodies like the IET and organisations such as WES, and as a starting point. You are not alone in your return, there are employers waiting to add you to their workforce!