Don’t assume flexible workers don’t want to progress

Mandy Garner reminds us not to forget about flexible workers when it comes to training strategy. 

Training has been at the forefront of recent news reports as productivity and skills shortages become an increasingly pressing problem in the shadow of Brexit.

An OECD report on the UK’s productivity called for the UK to spend more on training instead of cutting corporation tax. A recent TUC report showed just one in three workers says their employer offers regular training opportunities.’s annual survey shows that figure is likely to be higher for those who work flexibly, particularly part-time workers, despite legislation that protects their rights.

The survey shows 47% of working mums think flexible working has affected their career progression, although almost three quarters identify flexible work as crucial to getting more women into senior roles. Some 52% of part timers say they have missed out on career progression opportunities or training.

What often gets missed in the focus on training is the knock-on impact on retention figures. One woman’s employer, for instance, refused to pay for her AAT course when she reduced from full time to part time. Her responsibilities were not reduced, but her pay was cut.

Employers need to make time for regular conversations with their employees about their career path, particularly after they go on extended leave.

Another left her job in property services when training opportunities were taken away after she applied for flexible working. She left and now has a job where she has a lot of flexibility. Several remarked that their career had stagnated since they got flexible working. This remark was typical: “Jobs at higher levels are simply not available part time in my organisation.”

The lack of career progression for flexible workers and the lack of new quality roles, particularly senior roles, that are advertised as flexible, are feeding a huge exodus of women towards self employment or retraining. The same survey shows 64% of mums are interested in retraining and 58% have considered setting up their own business – the main reason being to get more flexibility.

20% of mums had retrained in the last 12 months and 71% said they would be more likely to retrain if courses were more flexible, for instance, offered online. Although there are other reasons for seeking to retrain and change sector, for instance, changing values and difficulties with the travel associated with some jobs, the results show a need for employers to think more carefully about how they retain women.

Often assumptions are made that women do not want to progress after having children which may be far from the case. Indeed, having overcome the challenge of adapting to parenthood they may well be more capable, if given the right encouragement and practical support, and have more of a financial need to progress.

Employers need to make time for regular conversations with their employees about their career path and particularly after they go on extended leave and treat every individual as just that – an individual with their own challenges and aspirations.

Those employers who do support their staff through parental leave and beyond have seen sharp increases in their retention figures as have those who ensure all staff get access to training and development.


At a recent My Family Care event in London speakers pointed out the business case for parent transition coaching – with several, including leading bank, law and IT firms, citing significant improvement in retention rates after parental leave and increased commitment.

SMEs also report a strong business case for parental leave support and career development of all staff.

Digital marketing and publishing company Genie Ventures provides good post maternity leave support and use ‘keeping in touch days’ for staff on extended parental leave proactively to enable a smooth return to work. They also have a Genie Academy which includes a graduation process. This not only shows their commitment to career development, but the fact that they recognise and celebrate it.

At healthcare communications company Cuttsy and Cuttsy every member of staff gets a minimum of 24 hours training a year, regardless of what pattern of work they do, but most do more.

The world of employment is in a state of turbulence which is affecting all sectors. Education and training is just one facing immense disruption from online platforms, the entry of more and more providers and demands for lifelong learning to meet the changing needs of employers.

Employers need to grasp that the game has changed and there is no going back. Agile working models where every member of staff is developed to their full potential are the future. There are many companies who are already working in this way. They offer examples of how to make the model work – for employees and for the long term future of employers.


About the author

Mandy Garner is editor of



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