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Planning my return: getting back into my career after care leave

When I left university I became a transport planner, ensuring that the rail network in the UK operates as efficiently as possible, but I took a ten-year career break after having children. I began working flexibly around childcare as a fitness instructor, but when COVID arrived, the gyms closed and I was furloughed from my position at a local school. With my children now older, I decided it was time to pick up my earlier career.

I saw the Government’s Return to Planning programme online and honestly didn’t think I’d be successful. I’d been out of work for such a long time. I thought, “I’m punching for the stars, but I’ve got nothing to lose”.

Many of us had been out of the field for a few years, so it was daunting. I kept thinking, “Why would an employer choose me over a 25 year old?” Part of the course focused on personal growth and confidence building, and coaches supported us to write our CVs, do mock interviews and just believe in ourselves again. It wasn’t only about finding out how transport planning had changed, it was empowering us to know we were still capable in industries we’d left long ago.

There were a lot of us going through the Return to Planning scheme with the Planning Advisory Service: architects, town planners, transport planners like me. Over the 8 weeks, being on the scheme made us feel like a real team. I made good friends there and we still keep in touch now.

As a transport planner, it’s my job to mitigate the impact that transport development has on the surrounding road network, and figure out how much the developer has to pay to balance that out. A lot of members of my team are civil engineers.

For me personally, it’s about getting people out of private cars. With my passion for health and fitness, it feels like two sides of the same coin. If we can encourage people to walk, cycle, catch a bus, it’s taking traffic off the road and making them healthier at the same time. I really believe that effective public transport can create positive lifestyle changes.

Within a month of finishing the programme, I landed a job. The team I’m in now encourages me to grow. They’re a pleasure to work with and I’m really enjoying being back in planning.

I want people to know that they shouldn’t be afraid of what they’ve done during a career break. If you’ve been caring for children, you’ve been project managing and developing all sorts of transferable skills! I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to catch up, but the principles of transport planning are still the same as they were ten years ago, and I’m so glad I did it.

So far, the government has funded 25 programmes that support returners. This includes providing a £1.5 million grant fund to support projects in the private sector, as well as targeting key professions in the public sector, such as social workers and health professionals. Guidance for employers on how to support returners, including a toolkit for those on their return to work journey, is available via the GOV.UK website. On International Women’s Day 2022, it was announced that a new returners scheme for STEM would be developed. Details of this new programme will be available shortly.

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