Supported Returner Program

Implement a supported returner program to recruit individuals who have been on an extended career break.

On this page:

Supported returner programs are also known as returnship programs or supported hiring programs.

The untapped workforce

A large number of qualified women are economically inactive due to caring responsibilities. These women have a high level of skills, education, and experience, and have gained new skills while on a career break.

Businesses that can develop programs, policies and practices to attract and retain this workforce may benefit from a substantial competitive advantage.

Not only can businesses take advantage of a wealth of talent often overlooked by standard recruitment methods, but they can also save money and time on employee development.

Supported returner program

Who are returners?

Returners are individuals who are re-entering the workforce after an extended career break. Returners are often, but not always, women who are returning to work after taking time out to care for children.

Check out the Supported returner program resource for a step-by-step guide to planning, developing, implementing and sustaining a supported returner program.

The supported returner program actions resource can help identify actions you can take to address barriers to attracting, recruiting and retaining women in your workplace.

What are supported returner programs?

Supported returner programs:

  • are paid and structured programs that help women to re-integrate into the workforce following an extended career break.
  • are provided by employers and offer returners a short-term opportunity with the likelihood of an ongoing role at the end of the program.
  • pay returners competitively and provide them with transitional supports such as coaching, training and mentoring to aid their return to work.
  • can target all occupational skill levels.

Download an article on the use of return to work programs.

Download the UK best practice guidance for employers on returner programs.

International experience suggests that barriers that prevent women returning to their careers such as a lack of recent work experience, low networking possibilities, and low confidence can be overcome using the supported returner program approach to help motivate, encourage, and re-skill women. In the US and UK these types of programs have been successful particularly in the finance, professional service and STEM sectors.

There are a growing number of organisations in Australia that already offer supported returner programs, such as Macquarie however they are not widespread, particularly in regional areas.

The development and implementation of an organisation’s supported returner program depend on the organisational structure, needs, and industry. Businesses use returner programs to:

1. Tackle skills shortages

  • Returner programs can create access to a new pool of people, who either have the right skills or could easily be trained to develop them.

2. Support the number of women in senior roles

  • Hiring experienced female returners at professional and mid to senior management level to boost the presence of more senior women within the organisation.

3. Improve the chances of getting the right candidate and making sure they stay

  • Placements in a supported returner program typically involve a range of work experience which helps both the employer and the participant to find a suitable and permanent role at the end of the program.
  • This approach shows the business is being resourceful and innovative in its hiring practices and helps to find talented candidates that might otherwise have been overlooked.

In most cases, supported returner programs adapt and change over time based on experience and business needs.

Download the UK research report on returner programs.


Lessons learned from the UK Returners Grant Fund

In 2018 the UK Government Equalities Office launched a Returners Grant Fund to engage and support returners and employers in the private sector. These programs centre on three key sectors – ICT, Planning and Social Work.

For a summary of key learnings and recommendations for supported returner programs check out the Lessons learned from the UK Returners Grant Fund resource.