Latest News

Survey to assess impact of a career break on returning to work in the STEM industry

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

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 and what challenges were faced when attempting to return to work. It will enable STEM Returners to further understand the barriers people face, track the progress UK STEM industries are making, and shine a light on the change needed to create fair opportunities for all.

This is the fourth Index launched by STEM Returners, which facilitates paid short-term employment placements with industry leaders like Wates, BAE Systems, Kier, Leonardo and Airbus to return highly qualified and experienced STEM professionals to work after a career break.

Returners can be any age, ethnicity, come from any background and importantly can have any length of break on their CV.

STEM Returners was set up by Natalie Desty in 2017 after she saw the challenges STEM professionals who had been out of employment for a period of time faced when trying to re-enter their profession.

Natalie said: “Over the years we’ve seen how hard it can be for people who have a gap on their CV return to employment. However, we want to get more detailed insight into these challenges and use this valuable information to help employers improve their recruitment processes.

“Unfortunately, there is still a perception that a career break leads to a deterioration of skills, but we know this cannot be further from the truth.

“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.”

The 2023 STEM Returners Index will be open until 30 June 2023.

More than 1000 people completed last year’s survey in which nearly a third (29%) of women said they felt they had personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to their gender compared to 7% of men, and despite 39% of females wanting to return to work due to children now being of school age (vs 8% of males), 40% of females still felt childcare responsibilities are a barrier to returning due to lack of flexibility offered by employers.

In the survey, men (46%) were more likely to be victim of bias because of their age compared to women (38%). Bias also appeared to become more prevalent with age, with more than half of over 55’s saying they have experienced personal bias, compared to as low as 23% in younger age groups.

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. More than 310 candidates have joined programmes across the UK since 2017.

One of those people is Anwesha Gupta, who joined Wates Group last year. With 11 years experience in the Civil & Structural industry, Anwesha had a two-year career break to look after her young daughter after moving to the UK.

But when she wanted to return to the industry, she found it difficult to reach recruiters and secure an interview.

“Most of the time I got reply that they saved my resume for future reference, and it was tricky to secure a further chance of interview as I didn’t have prior UK experience,” she said.

“There was a point when I started to feel that it was tough to get a suitable role after a career break. But with the help and connection of STEM Returners I am now able to put forward my career. There are certain circumstances in people’s life where they need to interrupt their professional life in order to take care other things such as family life, health etc. But that doesn’t mean the end of their career.”

Wates Group has recently launched a second STEM Returners programme following the success of the first one last year, as part of their commitment to bring 125 women into the construction industry by 2025.