Programs to Help Those Re-Entering the Workplace

The idea that a person who hasn’t worked professionally for years can go right back into their old position as if they have never been away is absurd. They first will need to spend time in training in order to catch up with new technologies, processes, systems, etc.

I saw a question in an advice column from a woman who had been a stay-at-home mother for years and now is attempting to re-enter the workplace.

The response notes that she was working the whole time she was out of the workforce in her role as a stay-at-home mother. True, I thought to myself, but she hasn’t been doing the work related to her profession, most likely. Being a stay-at-home mother is filled with work, such as cleaning up after children, driving children to and from activities, helping with homework, and myriad other tasks and activities. However, if you are not a daycare center employee, or an employee in another job closely aligned with childcare, there is little chance that what you have been doing—regardless of its arduous nature—had anything directly to do with your pre-stay-at-home professional life.

The Fairness Factor

When considering the ease with which those who have been absent from the workplace should be able to re-enter, I think both in terms of what is fair for those people and what is fair for the rest of us who have not spent a decade or more away from our professional work.

We currently are experiencing an employee’s market, meaning there are more jobs than people who want to fill them. At most other times during my lifetime, the employment market has been the reverse. I suspect it will return to that state in the next couple of years. When that time comes, and it is once again an employer’s market, deciding whether it is fair to disregard a person’s time in a job when making a hiring decision will be important. If there are a limited number of jobs, is it right to put a person who has been doing professional work every year, uninterrupted, for the last 20 years on an even footing with the person who took 10, or more, years off?

To my mind, it is a matter of experience level. Just as you would consider the number of years of experience any job applicant had, so too, it would make sense to consider that the person who has been away for 10 or more, years has less professional experience. They may have more life experience, but it is professional experience, rather than life experience, that factors into a professional job interview.

A Retraining Program

How do you handle a desire to help stay-at-home parents re-enter the workplace while making sure they are not given advantages over employees who did not time away from their jobs? One thought is to have a program especially for stay-at-home parents. In this program, positions are set aside for people in this situation. The positions would be similar to a paid internship for at least a year. Ten or more years is a long time to be away from the professional world. Whatever the field, many changes and advancements have taken place that will require catching up and learning. After one year, the re-entering employee could be evaluated to see if they are ready for advancement to a level closer to where they left off. The program I am thinking of would offer a period of learning and training that acknowledges everything a person misses when they are away from their profession for an extended time.

The idea that a person who hasn’t worked professionally for years can go right back into their old position as if they have never been away is absurd. Those who have not taken time off, who are competing for the same position, now have many more years of experience and professional accomplishment that the re-entering employee must spend time in training in order to catch up to.

The decision to be a stay-at-home parent is a deeply privileged one. Many of us would have loved to do the same, taking years away from our profession to focus on something that is personally important to us. Out of necessity, and for some, desire, we stuck it out for years instead, doing the work day after day, year after year, with no extended breaks. We should get something for that accomplishment when it comes time to compete for a job, right?

Does your organization have a program to help people seeking to re-enter the workplace?