Sally Passey, Principal Consultant, SHEQ at Turner & Townsend (14 year break)

I graduated with an MEng in Microelectronic and Software Engineering from Newcastle University and worked for 14 years for BT. I had a successful career spanning engineering, global account management, operational management and customer service. I studied for an MBA from Durham University Business School and was part of BT’s Senior Executive Talent Pool.

I took voluntary redundancy from BT just before the birth of my second child and decided to take a career break to focus on bringing up my young family. After seven years – during which time I had a third child – I started working part-time as a Science Technician/Health and Safety Advisor at a local grammar school. It suited me well as my children were progressing through primary school during that time.

Another seven years passed and as my youngest child started secondary school, I had an increasing desire to return to a professional role. I left the school in April 2018 to concentrate on returning to my career. Twelve months later I joined Turner & Townsend on their inaugural Career Returner’s Programme. In my mind I’d had a 14 year career break despite working part-time for many years during that time.

Turner & Townsend’s Career Returners Programme offers people like me an initial six month contract for a professional role and a support programme specifically geared to career returners. When I joined the Programme I was given an induction, a buddy and coaching support from Women Returners to help returners transition smoothly back into the workplace. Obviously, after a long career break, returning to full time work can impact upon home life, however I was prepared for the changes and did not require any additional support. My return to a professional role has resulted in my family having to become more independent but this, I believe, is a good thing!

When I started my new role – as Principal Consultant, SHEQ with Turner & Townsend – it had been a long time since I’d worked in an office environment. There are a number of changes which became apparent. Whilst I can see that hot-desking makes economic sense, I found it made it more difficult to build relationships and to get to know people. Working practices have changed also – some for the better: less travel, more skype; less speaking, more email and more of an understanding around work/life balance.

My advice to other professionals looking to return to work after a career break would be to consider returner programmes – they’re an excellent opportunity for people to return to work in a supported way. The short-term contract gives the returner the opportunity to “try it out” – to see if work fits around their home life; to see if the organisation is a good fit and to give them the opportunity to flex working hours/working arrangements to find the best fit. The organisation should be prepared to help returners with this by providing training and support so that they can get the best out of that person. If the company does everything right, then they are likely to get an employee who is immensely loyal as they will appreciate the extra mile the company has gone in supporting returners.

Returning to work for me has been great! I was really ready to return to a career that challenged me – one where I have to use my brain and can achieve measurable success. Rather than gearing down, like many of my friends, I’m gearing up. I’ve had my time away from business and I’m now ready to take on the challenge and hopefully progress, learning new skills along the way!

I’m pleased that Turner & Townsend saw my potential despite the many years I had been away from professional life. All organisations could benefit from recognising that returners have all the skills they had in their previous careers together with a wealth of new skills gained from the many life experiences of their career breaks. I’m proud to be a career returner and delighted to work for a company that is going that extra mile to support people like me in their career journeys.