Are you looking to jump back into work after a career gap but don’t know where to begin? If so, opting to apply via a 'returners programme' could be for you.

Your reasons for a career gap might be due to care-giving/family reasons, travel overseas or study. You may even have attempted a return but have met with less than enthusiastic employers. Times are changing however, and driven by a number of factors, companies are now seeing the huge value of returners.

They are seeing the significant benefits you bring and welcome you as part of their focus on diversity and inclusion. Companies with returner programmes are now more likely to attract top talent.


Typically, applicants have been away from the workforce for upwards of two years. People returning to work often find it difficult to secure relevant work. Many experience being perceived as 'being out of touch' due to their gap period. 

 “Applicants to our programme will have previously worked in a technical or engineering role,” said Mairéad Cummins, senior talent acquisition partner at PM Group. “We value the benefit of hiring an individual who has previous relevant experience. In some instances, a returner can be up to speed in the time it can take to find the ‘perfect candidate'.

"As our programme developed, we learnt not to assume that we know what a returner is looking for. An employer might assume it’s all about part-time but interestingly, 50% of our applicants wanted to work a five-day week. What’s important is having the flexibility to decide what works for you to balance personal and work commitments."

More about ‘the Gap’

Don’t underestimate the value of any volunteering you may have done while away from the workforce, advises Cummins. Time and skills developed on school boards, local committees and sports clubs include influencing, team building, negotiating and time management. These skills are essential in the workplace for successful team building and collaboration.

“The length of time our hires have been out of the workforce varies greatly – the longest gap was 17 years and we have joiners who came back to work after two years. PM Group’s Returners Programme is open to everybody with a career gap. However, a high proportion of its returners are female – many have taken time out to have children or care for family members,” says Cummins.

Benefits of a returners programme

Returners add significant levels of diversity to the company. Different viewpoints create more robust conversations and ideas – reducing ‘groupthink’. "Our programme helps to relaunch their career in a job that makes full use of their skills and experience. Some of our new hires have successfully started at a senior level. This level of hire is key to addressing the gap at middle management that exists across all industries.

"Our returners bring skills and experience to roles that are hard to fill. Departments such as quantity surveying; process engineering; mechanical engineering; projects controls; and digital transformation are reaping the rewards of the programme, at both our Cork and Dublin offices. When it comes to finding the right person, referrals have been a great source of candidates, while others applied directly. We have been very pleased with the uptake to date.

"When developing our programme, we saw that people looking to return lacked confidence and felt daunted by the recruitment process. That really helped us to shape our approach, which focuses on the individual, understanding their needs and making the process less daunting," says Cummins.

Flexibility is key

When considering a returners programme, don’t always expect quick results. It is often a longer process than recruiting experienced hires who are currently working. Naturally, more support is needed and more in-depth discussions to identify a suitable role.

Some returners programmes have specific six-month placements similar to internships or graduate placements but PM Group's programme overlaps with ongoing hiring activity. “We have a flexible approach meeting the needs of each person who joins the company – it is not a one-size fits all,” says Cummins. "When any job opportunity opens within the company, we discuss with the hiring manager if there is capacity to hire a returner."

A key characteristic of a returner placement is the amount of support provided to ease the transition back into work. Once started at PM Group, returners receive a high level of support, including confidential one-to-one coaching to assist with their integration back into the workforce.

Looking to the future

Government support is vital to set the policies for organisations to follow. In October 2019, the employment minister announced the intention to provide funding for returner programmes. Whilst these measures may have been paused due to the pandemic, it shows the intent to address the imbalance of women in the workplace. Elsewhere, the UK, has provided £5m towards returners programmes since 2017. "More needs to be done, here!" says Cummins.

On January 26, 2023, Engineers Ireland is hosting an event for anybody thinking about returning to work. More details will be available on its website shortly.

Click here for more information

Mairéad Cummins is a senior talent acquisition partner and has more than 20 years’ experience in talent acquisition. In PM Group, she is responsible for recruitment across a broad range of disciplines and levels. She is also responsible for the returners programme.

Arcadis DPS Group's Carol Hunt: Tips and advice

Thinking about returning to an engineering role in 2023? Carol Hunt, global talent development manager at Arcadis DPS Group, shares her advice and offer tips on how to make it happen.

"Much like any goal, start off with putting a plan in place which includes your availability, desired working arrangement, role, sector, location. 

"Consider your network then, who do you know that could help you connect with the relevant individuals in organisations. This is great way to start your job-search not only because your contacts might help you to get a role, but also they can provide you with valuable insight into the practical aspects of their role/organisation including any innovations or changes which would be important for you to be aware of

Key questions  

  • Describe a typical day.
  • What technology do you use on a regular basis.
  • What has been the biggest change in how you do your job in the past year.
  • What opportunities do you see in this role/sector?
  • Is your Organisation your hiring individuals with my skillset?
  • Can you share any information on salary scale?
  • How does your Organisation support returners?
  • Do you have a referral programme?
  • Where should I send my CV?

"Taking this approach will have multiple benefits, once you have gained some insights, you can use this intelligence to (1) prepare a relevant CV and cover note highlighting the research you’ve carried out into the firm (b) you can potentially address some gaps in your knowledge by taking some short courses online (minimising any skills shortfall!) (c) demonstrate at interview the lengths you have gone to, to address any gaps and highlight your understanding of the role and its contribution. (d) update your LinkedIn profile.

"Once you’ve joined the organisation, similar to any other individual who decides to change companies, there will always be a period of time dedicated to ‘onboarding’, learning how the company operates, the systems, who’s who and generally the ways of working.  

"At Arcadis DPS we support all joiners with a comprehensive onboarding programme, one which has been designed to ensure all new starters get up to speed with the internal workings of the organisation as efficiently and effectively as possible. 

"Additionally our focus on leadership and technical skills are supported by a comprehensive suite of online and class based training programmes which will enhance both your competence and confidence.

"Utilising membership and connections made through Engineers Ireland network will be a valuable direct link to opportunities in this sector. Using a platform such as LinkedIn for members or through joining one of the Engineers Ireland's affiliated groups to expand your network and make connections.  

"Finally, as we see continued competition for engineering talent in Ireland and further afield, I would be confident there are ample opportunities out there for returners." 

(At Arcadis DPS Group we welcome individuals who have had a sabbatical and are now looking forward to rejoining the workforce. View career opportunities at or contact Carol Hunt directly via LinkedIn or via the Women in Engineering group.)

Carol Hunt, MSC, PG Dip BA (Hons) has been working in the field of human resources, recruitment and career development for more than 20 years. She is a member of Engineers Ireland and a committee member of the Women in Engineering Group. 

Georgina Molloy: Chair of Women in Engineering Group 

Georgina Molloy, a Chartered Engineer in the civil/structural area and with more than 20 years’ experience in the profession, is chair of Engineers Ireland’s Women in Engineering group. She says: "I have taken three career breaks in my 21 years as an engineer. One was to travel around the world and two were eight months of maternity leave for each of my children.

"While the career breaks were not long, each return to work felt very daunting, but also exciting. I returned to work with a fresh perspective each time and the breaks never harmed my career – quite the opposite.

"A mere 12.5% of Engineers Ireland members are women. A shockingly low number considering the percentage was 10% when I graduated 21 years ago.

"The Women in Engineering group aims to support women and girls who plan to study engineering, who are studying engineering, who are working in engineering, and women who may be on a career break from the profession and would like to return at some stage, now or at any time in the future.

"You do not need to have any plans to return to join us. Being part of our community might just help you to keep in touch with the profession and with other female engineers while you are on your open-ended career break. Joining our group might help you to slowly and without pressure, build a network for your future return.

"One of my favourite quotes is from author Gretchen Rubin, who observes, ‘The days are long but the years are short’. I think that’s very apt when it comes to our careers. In my opinion, life is far too long not to take a career break and equally, engineering is far too interesting and rewarding to stay away from forever!

"If you are considering a return, even if it’s very far into the future, or even if the idea is just a tiny acorn, please join our event on January 26, we would love to see you there."

Georgina Molloy is a Chartered Engineer with more than 20 years’ experience in the profession, she works in sustainable energy engineering. She is a co-founder and chair of Engineers Ireland’s Women in Engineering group.

Women in Engineering – LinkedIn Group (3) Women in Engineering Group – Engineers Ireland | Groups | LinkedIn