Before my career break, I had spent over 20 years working within Project, Programme and Portfolio Management organisations, both within Public and Private Sector organisations, ranging from Blue Chip FTSE 100 to Pre-IPO Start-Ups. My sector knowledge is Construction/Infrastructure projects, Telecom and Virtual Private Network (VPN) technologies and finally, onto business change and project control environments. All in all, it’s been a varied career in the world of Infrastructure.
Having made a decision to return to part-time study to complete an MBA and to also engage on a number of pursuits, including forming a boutique management consultancy with my siblings, I found myself rudderless when, unexpectedly, my mother fell ill. Initially, her prognosis was good and then within days, she deteriorated quite literally before my eyes. All of a sudden, both my siblings and I were faced with a strange set of decisions. I was best placed to help her and so I became her surrogate full-time Carer. Fourteen months of almost daily hospital appointments; renovations to house and home to assist her movement; food and other domestic chores meant that I had to give up most things. I did pursue a Trusteeship of two charities that I continue today and a theatre group, one evening per week. I still continue to care for my mother (although she is much improved from those initial days).
My career break in total lasted approximately 2 years and I found it to be a mixed bag of highs and lows. I was studying for an MBA part-time whilst trying to launch a business which came with its inherent challenges. I was then catapulted into a situation where I was taking care of a loved one whilst having to navigate and steer my own life through shallow waters. In the end, I realised that returning to the workplace was the right thing to do for me intellectually, socially and economically.
When I decided to return to work, finding work post-career break was challenging. My people networks perished during my career break. Some friends and family were supportive, but not all, whilst many recruiters held the belief that if you are not ‘currently’ or ‘recently’ employed then you and your knowledge are not relevant.
The transition back into the workplace on the AECOM returner programme has been almost seamless. Both Line and Assignment Managers have been supportive about my ongoing care commitments at home, which has helped me tremendously with my assimilation back into the workplace. Work-life balance is a continuing challenge but one that I’m willing to accept given my circumstances. Work colleagues have been both pleasant and open; this certainly helped in those early days when grappling with new corporate processes and systems. Women Returners’ coaching programme has also provided a tailored set of tools and techniques that support constructive introspection, self-assessment and in many ways, self-discovery.
Women Returners in collaboration with AECOM provided the warmest of welcomes and ‘soft landings’ (to coin an idiom from the world of project management) that one could have possibly expected. The focus on the psychological adjustments that one must make coming back to the workplace was especially eye-opening and provided a great opportunity to take stock of what one could expect in the days, weeks and months on returning to the workplace.
I really enjoy being back at work and AECOM has made the transition all the more enjoyable. I’ve worked for many organisations during my career (both in the public and private sector) and I have to say, AECOM is up there with the best. It’s a friendly and positive place to work and management have been fabulous.
For men and women looking to return to work I would advise keeping your skills, both professional and personal, up-to-date and relevant. I’d suggest joining a professional network on an online platform such as LinkedIn or perhaps joining a professional association or body (if one is available for your chosen career). If you choose to join a professional body or association then I’d suggest making every effort to get involved in a relevant ‘Special Interest Group” (SIG).
The next piece of advice I would offer to any returner to work is to keep yourself mentally and physically fit (by the way, I’m certainly not poster boy for this advice). The workplace can be a stressful environment and it requires a fair reserve of energy to stay on top of your game.
Finally, “stay ready” because when the opportunity presents itself (and it will) you have to give it your best shot.