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The case for return-to-work programmes

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Jo Hayes, director of pipeline initiatives, The Women’s Foundation on searching for talent beyond traditional recruitment methods.

In Hong Kong, we face a potential economic regression fuelled by a rapidly ageing population and a record-low birth rate. Given these demographic factors, to maintain our competitive edge, it is vital we find innovative ways of retaining talent in the workforce.

This search for talent must look beyond traditional recruitment methods. One of the most underutilised, yet readily available talent pools, are employees who have stepped off the corporate ladder for a career break. Women make up the largest segment of this talent pool.

Some 58% of senior female talent experience career interruptions that cause them to diverge from linear career paths. Although childcare is commonly seen as the main driver for off-ramping, elderly care is becoming increasingly important, particularly in Asia where outsourcing elderly care is not seen as a culturally acceptable option.

More than 90% of women who take a career break say they want to return to the workforce, but only 40% are able to find full-time roles to return to.

Some 58% of senior female talent experience career interruptions that cause them to diverge from linear career paths.

Structuring robust return-to-work (RTW)programmes and tapping into this pool of returnee women has enormous potential for a positive impact.

From a long-term retention standpoint, it strengthens loyalty among employees and creates a brand halo for an institution as an employer-of-choice.

It also provides an alternative channel for tapping into experienced talent, allowing for a more diverse middle and senior leadership team.

From a strategic talent acquisition perspective, returnees bring a wealth of experience and transferable skills, have increased levels of engagement and are motivated to succeed.

Having a mix of backgrounds and experiences is also a key factor in building an inclusive, diverse workforce – which is better for employee satisfaction and the bottom line.

Our research shows there are several critical success markers behind effective RTW programmes.

Organisations looking to establish RTW programmes need to be clear on the rationale and metrics for success and to articulate how the programme addresses talent diversity gaps.  Additionally, the participation and endorsement of senior leaders is vital in setting the tone and influencing hiring managers.

Having a mix of backgrounds and experiences is also a key factor in building an inclusive, diverse workforce – which is better for employee satisfaction and the bottom line.

To retain RTW programme participants, it is important to ensure the roles are challenging and senior enough to adequately utilise their skills and expertise.

Offering upskilling initiatives to returnees also encourages successful integration. Buddy schemes, access to senior management, fast-tracked programmes and flexible working conditions all contribute to sustainable reintegration.

As we all live longer, careers marked by transitions, pivots and reinventions are likely to become the norm. It is key for business and the overall economy that we harness and develop RTW talent effectively.

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