Back to Work Connect is a profit for impact company, providing an education and employment career hub to all those who seek a career change, or intend to return to work.
Prior to establishing the social enterprise, founder Gina Oglesby (pictured, right) worked for many years as a business professional across multiple industries, such as construction and food.
With genuine empathy and a ‘been there, need to change that’ mindset, Gina now embraces every opportunity to lead and innovate returners to employment through her role as director of Back to Work Connect.
“Before Back to Work Connect, I had worked as a purchasing manager in two large construction companies. I also ran my own bakery business. I had lots of experience and had been in the work force for a very long time. Yet, I couldn’t find a job that was in any way flexible to me as a parent.
“So I first hand understood how difficult it all can be. And that is where the inspiration for Back to Work Connect came from,” she explains.
Gina and her colleagues want to address and help people overcome some of the many hurdles they face on the return to work journey. Starting with the unfair judgement that is attached to part-time work, she elaborates.
“There is this stigma around part-time work – that you aren’t quite qualified, committed or loyal, in comparison to a full-time employee.
“The reality for many parents is that childcare is so expensive, that they simply cannot afford to go to work every day. Or else, they are going out to work each day just to pay for that childcare.”
While the support network is open to everyone, it was brought to life with a specific target group in mind, Gina continues.
“We designed Back to Work Connect for stay at home parents and carers, who have a career gap and are not in receipt of state support. We believe that they face the biggest obstacles in terms of returning to the work place. They slip between all the stools and do not receive the support they deserve.”
More to this, the social enterprise also promotes age diversity within the work place. While gender equality issues are often spoken about and highlighted, Gina feels that ageism in the workforce is often ignored and unsupported.
“There is a really difficult and unfair perception where people in their 50s and 60s are not seen as suitable job candidates.
“If we look at the statistics – in Ireland we have over 100 large international companies who offer graduate programmes. While there are less than five companies who have returner programmes.
“Multi-generational teams are so valuable to any employer or corporation, but they are often overlooked. So part of our goal is to also have age balance in the workplace.” She says.
Commending the valuable skills learned and workload taken on during a career gap, Gina and her colleagues act as a unified voice on behalf of those with a CV gap, who now wish to return to work.
“I don’t think society values those who stay at home to look after a relative, or care for their children nearly as much as we should.
“We want employers to realise and acknowledge that the ‘career gap’ (the time spent working at home) wasn’t lost. It was very valuable and a huge amount of skills were accomplished during that time. Skills which these returners can put into a workplace context. That is what matters to us.”
Unfortunately, the aforementioned cost of childcare and lack of opportunity are not the only difficult challenges a returner to work might face, Gina explains. Often hidden, self-confidence issues are usually the most difficult obstacle to overcome, she continues.
“If someone has been out of employment for a while, they tend to lose their self-belief and self-worth. They don’t think they are capable of going back into the workforce and that is a huge issue in all of this, which is not really addressed.
“It ties in with the many women who are at home, financially dependent on their partner. The last thing they will do is spend money on career coaching for themselves. And actually, that is the one thing that they really need,” Gina explains.
Skills 4 Success
As a social enterprise, Back to Work Connect offers a number of free and professional support programmes to its users. The Skills 4 Success programme, which is delivered through a series of webinars, educates users on important topics like confidence building skills and CV and interview preparation.
“We often have people who have been sending out CVs for six months and are not getting anywhere. Our free webinars help to get their CV up to scratch and get them back in the game,” Gina says.
Another dimension to Skills 4 Success is its career coaching service. Those who qualify for the free service are provided with invaluable support and guidance sessions, which help get them back to employment.
Gina explains that these career coaching sessions are offered through a qualification process. This is done to ensure that those who are facing a financial barrier and cannot currently afford to pay for a career coach will be catered for by the team.
“We can’t really do much about the price of childcare, but we do provide a list of childcare providers.
“What we can address is the confidence issue, through our Skills 4 Success programme. And we address the lack of skills, through our interlinked jobs board and course directory. For every job you see on our board, you also see a link to where the relevant courses are being offered around the country.
“We specifically focus on courses that are free, so the financial barrier is no longer an issue,” she explains.
Although Back to Work Connect is not a recruitment agency, Gina assures us that the support network is there to assist you in making the first move on your back to work journey.
“The reality is that most people who are in this situation have thought about going back to work for years. It is a thought process that has been brewing over time and the first step – very often the most difficult – is coming to us for support.
“It can be as simple as just having somebody to talk to, who understands how difficult it is and advise you on what you can do to help yourself. That’s what we are here for.”
You can register online, or send an email to the Back to Work Connect team, who will in turn reach out to you.
On Wednesday 5 May, join ‘How to ace the interview’, Back to Work Connect’s free webinar on interview skills.