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STEM returner experience: a success story!

Category: Returners Programme, STEM, Flexible Working, IPO, STEM Returners Scheme, Inclusive Recruitment, social research skills, official statistics

Career and Talent Development News

The IPO recently took part in a STEM returners programme. The scheme was open to talented individuals who have been away from the STEM workplace. It offered them an opportunity to gain current work experience which equipped them to re-enter successfully into STEM roles. 

Proportionally to the population, the STEM returner programme receives a significant number of applications from women and ethnic minorities – so helping these individuals back into the workplace helps to make our workplace more diverse and inclusive.

Pauline Beck, Head of Social Research and Statistics, tells us how the scheme proved to be a valuable experience - not just for the STEM Returner and for the IPO, but also for Pauline herself.

Pauline Beck

Pauline Beck, Head of Social Research and Statistics

The line-manager’s story:

This was the first year that IPO participated in the STEM Returners programme. From my point of view, I looked at this as a mentoring opportunity, with the prospect of some really concrete results. 

In the recruitment process I was looking for someone with statistical or social research skills, and especially someone enthusiastic about joining our team. Shelan ticked all the boxes. She had a background in official statistics from her work in the Kurdistan Statistical Office and working for UNICEF, collecting data on refugees and displaced families. Shelan also had a very positive attitude. Needless to say, I was impressed and saw great potential. 

I knew though that there would be a steep learning curve – first of all, the topic of intellectual property is a big learning curve for most people, but doing that after 5 years of career break, in the middle of a pandemic, in a fourth language, while home-schooling, and a month during Ramadan… I think Shelan deserves a medal!

We weren’t too focused on the delivery of projects, but more on building confidence, getting used to the virtual office, and on preparing Shelan for future jobs. I saw it as a long-term investment for the civil service – for both of us. For Shelan’s future career, but for my own skills as well.

There were a few lessons learned, of course, (from the recruiting process, to the day-to-day tasks) but I think overall it was a great experience. Through Shelan, I have learned more about the insidious impact that daily discrimination can have on confidence; but even more importantly, I have learned how kindness and support matter oh so greatly and can rebuild confidence. I think we tend to forget its power sometimes. 

And I am so proud to say that Shelan has now secured a permanent position as a Statistical Analyst at the Trade Remedies Authority. Congratulations Shelan!

Pauline Beck, Aanna Hanif and Sajida Khanom

The STEM Returnee: 

My name is Shelan Othman, I have joined the IPO as a STEM returner for a 4 months experience after a career break of 5 years due to family reasons. I have wanted to re-join the labour market but I had been struggling to secure an interview.

I applied to the STEM returners programme and secured a place as a Statistical Officer on the Economics, Research, and Evidence team.

At first, I was nervous, and it felt like an insurmountable process to have to learn everything again. Even just sending an email would make me nervous. The reason for this was that I felt my English was not great, and I did not have the confidence to speak. Before working in the IPO, I had faced a lot of discrimination in my day-to-day life, and it had slowly impacted my confidence and my mental health.

Joining the IPO was truly life-changing. It changed my mindset, and my outlook. I felt that diversity mattered, I felt I belonged.

I felt very supported by my team and my manager, Pauline. She trusted me, but also cared about our work. I felt invested in the STEM Returners project because my line manager showed her own investment. The main benefits of the STEM returners programme were to:

  • Update my knowledge and skills
  • Overcome the ‘CV gap’ barrier of traditional recruitment
  • Boost my confidence and receive fantastic coaching support
  • Increase my professional networks
  • Gain invaluable mentoring from industry professionals

For example, I have learned how to make my CV and personal statement more suited for the Civil Service, using the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, and Result) method. I have also practiced my interview skills, and how to be more confident. I was already confident in my technical skills, but before the placement I couldn’t bring them out.

The main challenges I have faced during the placement was that I found it hard to manage working during lockdown and having to manage young kids alongside that work. It was also more challenging during Ramadan, but I found the flexible working was very helpful and convenient.

I feel truly grateful to have worked with my manager, Pauline, and for all the months of guidance and advice she has provided me. Pauline has helped to mould me into someone with valuable skills. The resilience and patience that she has shown and the amount of extensive work that she has put in the STEM returner project was commendable. It was a privilege to work under her leadership. I hope to make her proud of my future career. 

I have also really enjoyed the opportunity to get to work closely with other team members, and especially my ‘IPO buddy’ Connor who is a great person to work with and I truly appreciate the time, patience and effort he has put in teaching me further soft skills. I also made great friends with the other STEM Returners, Aanna Hanif and Sajida Khanom who offered me so much encouragement and support.

I feel proud and honoured to share my ideas and work ethics -the whole team was enthusiastic, energetic, and had a positive attitude. I thank every one of them for their constant hard work and dedication. Thank you IPO colleagues for the opportunity.


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VERCIDA works with over one hundred clients who are committed to creating an inclusive work environment. If you are an employer and interested in working with VERCIDA to promote your diversity and inclusion initiatives and attract the best candidates, please email [email protected] for more information.

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