STEM Returners launches its 2022 annual survey

Posted on 11 February, 2022 by Advance 

STEM Returners has launched its annual survey to understand STEM professionalsÂ’ experiences of trying to re-enter the sector after a career break.


Natalie Desty, Director of STEM Returners.
Courtesy STEM Returners

The STEM Returners Index is open to all STEM professions who have had a gap in their career or who are attempting to return to work or who have recently returned to work.

The survey is anonymous and will ask a variety of questions including reasons for a career break, what challenges were faced when attempting to return to work and what impact COVID-19 had on finding a role.

This is the third Index launched by STEM Returners, which returns highly qualified and experienced STEM professionals to work after a career break by working with employers to facilitate paid short-term employment placements.

STEM Returners was set up by Natalie Desty in 2017 after she saw how hard it was for STEM professionals who had been out of employment for a period of time, to re-enter their profession.

Natalie said: “We know that the UK engineering industry needs hundreds of engineers annually to keep up with demand, but despite this need, there is a pool of STEM professionals on a career break who find it incredibly challenging to return to work – recruitment bias being the main barrier to entry.

“We want to get more insight into the challenges STEM professionals face when wanting to return to work and how the last two years of the pandemic has effected that process. We can use this valuable information to work with employers and improve their recruitment processes and enable them to see that a gap on someone’s CV does not automatically lead to a deterioration of skills.

“I would like to personally encourage any STEM professional who has had a career break to take part in the survey and tell us about their experiences. Our last Index had more than 750 respondents, this year we’d like to get more than 1000.”

The 2022 STEM Returners Index will be open until 30 April 2022.

In last year’s survey, both men (39%) and women (43%) said they felt they had personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to a perceived lack of recent experience.

Nearly a third of female respondents said they had personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to their gender while 22% of respondents said they feel they have personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to their race or ethnicity. Additionally, 67% of BME respondents said they are finding it difficult or very difficult to return to work.

The STEM Returners’ programme aims to eliminate these barriers, by giving candidates real work experience and mentoring during their placement and helping them to seamlessly adjust to life back in work.

Programmes have been set up with internationally renowned firms including BAE Systems, Leonardo UK, Babcock International and SSE, with more than 200 candidates joining programmes across the UK.

Geoscientist Katie Ireland made the difficult decision to leave her role to focus on raising her children.

As her children began to get older, she wanted to return to the role she loved but unfortunately returning to work after a break was not an easy process.

Instead of recognising that Katie’s time out had made her a more rounded geoscientist, the career break penalty meant she faced rejection when trying to re-enter the industry.

She explained: “My five-year career break had a major impact on how I viewed myself and ultimately my confidence. My confidence was at an all-time low, my memory and ability to retain information was poor and this didn’t come across well. It was hard to explain to others and so difficult for them to empathise.

“I came across the STEM Returners role with Ørsted and thought the term 'STEM Returner' perfectly described what I was trying to do.”

Katie took part in a returners programme with Ørsted and has now been made a permanent member of staff. With decarbonisation and the move towards renewable energy, Katie’s career path will be one that is well-trodden over the coming years in STEM.

“The opportunity (at Ørsted) has changed my career in so many ways. Not only has it allowed me to return to work after a career break but it has given me the chance to transition from oil and gas to the renewables sector.”

For the 2022 survey: