Caring, Working, Living (CWL) was a 12-month project funded by the Government Equalities Office and delivered with support from the GM Chamber of Commerce. The project supported parents and/or carers that had had a break from paid employment for at least 12 months due to their caring responsibilities (Returners), to gain the confidence and skills necessary to navigate the jobs market.
We worked with 23 different employment support organisations (ESOs) across GM, both public and VCSE sector, to link Returners to organisations that deliver employability support, as well as sharing online resources and opportunities.
We worked with 56 different employers across the region, from micros to large employers to support them to better understand the value that Returners bring to the workplace; how to attract skilled and experienced Returners to an organisation as well as how to retain carers in the workforce.
Why did we do it?
Caring, Working, Living aimed to improve the confidence and self-esteem of Returners navigating the jobs market, and to improve their understanding of the skills that employers are looking for and to support them to find roles that match their skill level.
Work with employers focused on improving their understanding of the value that Returners bring to a workplace, as well as how to support working carers. Key to this work was supporting employers to fully understand flexible working and the benefits it can bring for the workforce as a whole, not just parents and carers who need to balance work with caring responsibilities.
This work has supported GMCVO’s strategic aim of improving the quality of life for GM people, and contributing to the reduction of inequalities between people and places, by working through and with a responsive, connected and influential VCSE sector.
What did we learn?
The majority of Returners on this project were aged in their forties. This is significant as it means that they were often ineligible for employability support for carers, which is often targeted at the over 50s. Only 21% of CWL Returners were in this age bracket.
Over half of CWL Returners identified themselves as being 'sandwich carers': having both parental responsibilities for children as well as caring responsibilities for an adult. This emphasises the need for employers to fully understand all the different facets of flexible working, such as term time hours, flexi-time and job share, in order for Returners to be able to balance work and caring.
The vast majority of CWL Returners were female. Research has shown that women often return to work in part-time, less senior roles in order to find the flexibility they need to be able to balance work with care. The economic impact of this on women is, therefore, two-fold: they work fewer hours and for a lower hourly rate when returning to work, despite having more experience to offer organisations on their return. Of the Returners that provided information about their educational level, most were degree level educated. Again, this reinforces the need for employers to offer flexibility in their roles for experienced and senior staff, not just at entry level.
The majority of Returners requested practical support that could be delivered by an employer as a means of gaining experience of being in the workplace after a break, as well as understanding the roles offered by employers and the skills that they are looking for. Returners most frequently asked for work trials; work experience and workplace visits. This illustrates that these opportunities, often associated as activities for school leavers looking for entry level roles, are also valued by experienced candidates who have had a break from the workplace.
At the start of the project we anticipated that the majority of referrals would come via Employment Support Organisations. However, this has been far from the case. Overwhelmingly, Returners have self-referred to CWL having seen the project’s social media presence. The project had its own Facebook page, which has allowed us to share information with other community organisations such as local parent and carer groups. We also used GMCVO’s Twitter and Linked In.
In order to make the pathway back to work more accessible to Returners, we undertook research into the use of job boards. We asked both Returners and employers to tell us about their experience of using jobs boards. Amongst other recommendations, GMCVO seeks to influence the creation of a Greater Manchester jobs board that specialises in flexible opportunities. [INSERT LINK TO REPORT HERE]
In March 2020 we surveyed Returners, ESOs and employers to find out what they thought had worked well. All stakeholders valued the collaborative nature of the project, particularly the opportunities for Returners and employers to work together at Panel meetings. As well as ensuring that key pieces of work, such as the employer toolkits, were shaped by and met the needs of both Returners and employers, these meetings gave the opportunity for both parties to network and gain a better understanding of the barriers that Returners face when navigating the jobs market.
Similarly, all stakeholders valued the pre-employment opportunities that were delivered with employers.
What happened as a result?
In collaboration with Returners, ESOs and employers we created a three-part toolkit for employers in order to improve their understanding of the various flexible working options, and how to remove barriers to attracting Returners during recruitment.
As already mentioned, we have produced a report called “Flexible Working: the role of job boards in better promoting flexible working”. GMCVO will continue using this report to ensure recruitment pathways are more accessible to everyone looking for flexible opportunities.
Over the course of the project we researched and collated information about a range of public and VCSE sector organisations across GM that provide support in the following areas: welfare; finance; housing; wellbeing and mental health; caring; and employment. We have collated this information into a Support Agency Directory which will continue to be used as a resource across GMCVO projects.
We have developed positive and collaborative working relationships with a range of organisations and bodies across the region. We will continue to support the work of the many VCSE sector employment support organisations that we have worked with, through the wider work at GMCVO lobbying and negotiating on behalf of the sector.
Similarly, we have encouraged the private and public sector employers we have worked with to sign up to the GM Good Employment Charter, and to Carers UK’s employer membership forum, Employers for Carers, in order to continue receiving support to develop their good practice. We will continue to work with the GM Good Employment Charter to support them to improve working conditions for those working in the region.