Lines open Mon-Fri 08:30-19:00

Supporting women starters and returners in science and engineering

Supporting women starters and returners in science and engineering


Skills and policies to rebuild our economy were the key themes in the government’s industrial strategy green paper published in January.

Objectives around prosperity, finding a role for the UK post-Brexit and addressing regional and social inequality can only succeed if Britain encourages and nurtures the talents in its workforce.

Sitting at the heart of this debate, is STEM – science, technology, engineering and maths – and access to the skills and investment we need in science and engineering.

For British Science Week, Prospect has been celebrating the achievements our 50,000 scientific members and the contributions they make to knowledge across the world.

As a trade union, we are challenging the stereotypes and perceived practices of some industries and showcasing the good work that is being done around widening diversity in STEM areas.

Prospect led a debate at last week’s TUC women’s conference on the importance of widening access to STEM careers.

I was proud to showcase the skills and commitment of Prospect members working in male-dominated industries, including sharing their own experiences with students at Wilbury Primary School in London.

But it’s not enough to get young women into STEM, we also need to look out for them once they are in work. That entails addressing barriers to progression and the wasteful, premature exit of talented scientists and engineers who leave the profession before they have reached their full potential.

Prospect collaborated with the Institution of Engineering and Technology in 2015 to produce guidance on ‘Progressing women in STEM careers’.

We are delighted to follow up this work with a new report focusing on the potential of returners – ‘Stepping back into STEM careers’

Returners are an important, but currently under-utilised, resource. With more than half of employers reporting difficulties in recruiting experienced technical staff, it makes sound business sense to target those who are already qualified and skilled.

Our aim is to change employers’ perceptions and practices so that returners are seen as a regular component of the talent pipeline alongside, for example, graduates and apprentices. And for the individuals concerned, the aim is to make returning a positive experience.

That’s why our report includes best practice tips on attracting returners and easing and managing their transition back into the workplace.

Equate Scotland project

It draws on lessons from a recent successful pilot returners programme, undertaken by Equate Scotland in partnership with Prospect.

The project promoted a structured support programme for the returners and active assistance for employers to create and fill paid work placements of between three and six months.

Employers and returners alike positively evaluated the programme. The Scottish government liked it so much that it is funding an expanded programme.

It just shows what can be done when we look for opportunities, not problems and when we embrace diversity and refuse to conform to out-dated rules or behaviour patterns.

Sue Ferns

Sue Ferns


You cannot currently add comments, please log in to add a comment.