Pathways to re-joining the workforce 

Kevin Vashi looks at some of the barriers preventing the unemployed from returning to work

The UK is currently in the grip of an unsustainable job market. The rate of unemployment in the UK reached a historic low of 3.7% in 2022, and yet businesses are still struggling to fill vacancies. Organisations are finding it hard to rehire after pandemic redundancies, and the skills gap is widening with sectors such as digital and cybersecurity reaching critically low levels. But where is the recruitment shortfall coming from? 

The Treasury announced in the 2023 Spring Budget that there are currently more than a million vacancies in the UK, and one-fifth of the eligible working population are “economically inactive”.  This means they are neither employed nor unemployed, and not currently seeking work due to other commitments such as caring responsibilities or long-term sickness. 

As employers and employees navigate unfamiliar territory, what plans has the government put in place to encourage people to re-enter the workforce, and how can short training courses help deliver on their pledges? 

Caregiving responsibilities can make it challenging for individuals to return to work. For example, parents with young children may struggle to find affordable childcare or flexible work arrangement

Barriers to re-entering the workforce 

There are several reasons why people struggle to return to work after a period of absence. Some of the most common factors include physical or mental health issues, lack of job opportunities or caregiving responsibilities.

One factor that can prevent people from returning to work is health problems. The number of people unable to work due to long-term sickness has risen sharply since the beginning of the pandemic and as of late 2022, it reached a record high of 2.5 million. Individuals who have suffered from a serious illness or injury may need time to recover before they can start working again, and similarly, those with chronic conditions may require ongoing treatment or allowances to manage their health and perform their job roles. People may struggle with ongoing health conditions that prevent them from returning to their previous unskilled or manual jobs but find themselves unequipped and unqualified to apply for other roles. 

Another challenge that many people face when trying to return to work is a lack of job opportunities. This can be particularly difficult for those who have been out of work for an extended period due to other commitments, as they may have fallen behind on industry trends or lost touch with their professional networks. In fact, research from the World Economic Forum suggests that 40% of the UK’s working population lacks digital skills. Certain industries may also have limited job openings or require specific qualifications that can be difficult to obtain. 

In some cases, caregiving responsibilities can make it challenging for individuals to return to work. For example, parents with young children may struggle to find affordable childcare or flexible work arrangements that allow them to balance their work and family responsibilities. Nursery costs have risen significantly in recent years, with the annual cost of a full-time nursery place for a child under two increasing by 44% since 2010. These rising costs have forced parents to make difficult decisions in sacrificing career progression.  

Finally, some individuals may experience psychological barriers to returning to work. For example, they may feel discouraged by previous job rejections or struggle with anxiety or depression that makes it difficult to cope with the stress of job searching and interviews.  

The reasons why people find it challenging to return to work are complex and multifaceted. However, by addressing these barriers both financially and practically, and providing support to those who need it, it is possible to help individuals overcome these obstacles and find meaningful employment. 

The great return

In the ‘back to work budget’ announcement, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt outlined a series of initiatives aimed at kick-starting the UK economy. These include a national response to spiralling childcare costs, with funding for free nursery places increasing by £280 million in 2024 and an additional 30 hours of free childcare a week for parents with children aged nine months to three years. A further £3.5m investment in DWP measures including £2bn for disabled people and those with long-term conditions, and a new digital Mid-life MOT will be introduced to help older workers understand what their employment choices now mean for the longer-term. 

These pledges will help to relieve some financial pressure for those and might make the decision to return to work slightly easier. The question is, what more can we do to help those who feel left behind or face adversity when attempting to jump back into the employment pool? 

The value of training and reskilling

Short courses or skills bootcamps can be an excellent way for individuals to gain new qualifications and knowledge that can help them return to the workforce, and it seems the government agrees. A further £34 million has been pledged to help adults with career progression and better pay.  

Whether someone has been out of work for a few months or several years, these sessions, which are often delivered around working hours and run from two to six weeks, offer a flexible and accessible option for building confidence and enhancing employability. 

One key advantage of short courses is that they can be tailored to meet the specific needs of the individual. For example, someone who is interested in a change of career may be able to find a course that introduces them to a new industry or occupation. Similarly, anyone looking to return to work after a break may benefit from a refresher that helps them brush up on basic computer skills or learn new software programmes.

In addition to providing practical skills and knowledge, short courses can also help individuals build confidence and motivation. For many people, it is a way to demonstrate their commitment to continuous learning and professional development. This can help them feel more confident and prepared when applying for jobs or attending interviews. 

Another advantage of short courses is that they are often more affordable and accessible than longer-term training programmes or degrees, with many fully funded by local authorities. This can be particularly important for those who are on a small budget or need to balance their training with other responsibilities, such as caring for children or elderly family members. 

Getting serious about the returning workforce 

The plans outlined by the chancellor in his latest budget are a positive step. However, if we are to address the gaps in the economy, there needs to be greater emphasis on providing adult learning opportunities as well as promoting diversity and inclusion within the workplace as this is limiting the progress of individuals in multiple sectors.   

In the short term, there should be a focus on offering specialist refresher courses for adults, which are quick to complete and boost peoples’ skills and confidence to a point where they feel ready to re-enter the job market. Fostering an inclusive culture that encourages people of all ages, backgrounds and ethnicities to return to work can only benefit the economy.    

Kevin Vashi is managing director at Netcom Training 

Kevin Vashi

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