Returning to the workplace

Dec 01, 2017
With improvement in the economy comes the opportunity for those who left the ranks to return to the office.

As the economic fortunes of the global economy and Ireland continue to improve there has been a strong increase in recruitment activity levels for Chartered Accountants across all sectors. This has been mirrored by a steady upturn in the number of experienced Chartered Accountants seeking to return to the workplace. 

Trends in the market

In recent years, we have witnessed through our recruitment service some growth in the demand for experienced, part-time Chartered Accountants, especially when companies are seeking to recruit a more experienced professional but may not have the budget to do so on a full time basis. This enables them not only to hire a person with the extensive knowledge and experience they require with their smaller budget, but it also provides the experienced professional the opportunity to utilise their expertise to the benefit of the organisation and add real value. 

Change in mind-set

More organisations are now showing willingness to recruit an experienced professional following a career break than might have done so previously. They are beginning to recognise the business benefits of recruiting someone more mature and experienced. Where they might previously have had concerns about a perceived ‘gap’ in experience, now this is less of a concern, particularly if the candidate can demonstrate how they managed to keep their skills up-to-date. 

One of the ways Chartered Accountants Ireland is helping members return to the workplace is by running a Back to Work Programme, through the Career Development Service. In September 2017, as part of our increasing focus on diversity, Chartered Accountants Ireland ran a one day workshop for members seeking to return to the workplace. Not only does a course like this help to boost self-confidence, it helps to provide prospective employers with comfort and assurance that the person is committed to returning to the workplace, is prepared and equipped to do so and that their skills are sufficiently up to date. It takes the perceived risk out of employing a professional returning from a career break and improves the chances of an all-round successful outcome. In total, 33 members attended, demonstrating a clear demand for programmes encouraging people back into the workplace. We plan to run the course again in 2018. 

Profile of participant

Many of the members who participated in the Return to Work programme held very senior roles and had a strong career track record, including roles at Financial Controller and Director level positions, before taking a career break. They have typically taken career breaks ranging from three to 15 years, and were generally in their early to mid-30s when they decided to take time out, often with the aim of raising a family, care for elderly or sick family members or to embark on other personal projects. What the members all had in common was an impressive career track record and strong skills and experience.

Key challenges

In our experience, when it comes to working with and coaching members returning to the workplace, the common challenges are still prevalent. Knowing how to write a CV, sourcing a new role, identifying roles in a recruitment market that is now mostly online, preparing for an interview, lack of market and IT knowledge and the absence of a professional network as well as low levels of self-confidence are all obstacles people who have taken a break encounter. Essentially, it is the challenge of reconnecting with their professional selves that can be the biggest barrier. We have found that many members undervalue the experience and skills they have developed outside the workplace and, in general, have difficulty promoting and selling the skill set they have to offer. The programme was designed specifically to address these areas with tips and advice, as well as providing interactive tools and exercises for members to complete.

Dual approach

Bringing members together with others who are seeking to return to work has numerous benefits, not least the fact that they can learn from and support each other. These meetings can be the starting point for rebuilding their network. We encourage the participants to stay in contact following the programme as well as meeting regularly for support. Peer support is a fundamental part of this programme and, when combined with the one-to-one coaching provided by Chartered Accountants Ireland, members can overcome the challenges they encounter on the journey to returning to the workplace.

Future of the programme

Chartered Accountants Ireland plans to continue our work to support members returning to the workplace. We have seen first-hand the benefits that result not just for members, but also for the wider business community, particularly at a time when there are difficulties in recruiting for certain areas. 

Members who have joined organisations following a career break have made a real impact in their new jobs. Their skills, knowledge and attributes have enabled them to make a meaningful contribution in their roles. Their high-level understanding of not just finance but business and commercial realities has enabled them to benefit organisations across a wide range of sectors. Life experience and skills enhanced outside of the workplace really do have a role to play in a work setting and employers are starting to recognise this. There really is a future career path following a career break.

Karin Lanigan is the manager of the Career Development and Recruitment Service at Chartered Accountants Ireland.