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Thames Tideway Tunnel roles set aside for career break returners

Six roles on the £4bn project to build a super sewer in London will be offered to people returning from a career break, the project promoter revealed today.

Thames Tideway Tunnel head of HR Julie Thornton told NCE two of the positions – which will initially be offered as 12-week paid internships – were “perfect for civil engineers”.

The initiative is the latest part of a major drive to boost diversity on the scheme. Chief executive Andy Mitchell told NCE last year he was aiming for equal numbers of men and women working on the scheme by the time it completed in 2023.

Dubbed ‘returnships’, the six roles will go to either men or women who have been out of the workforce for two years or more. The initiative is designed primarily to help women return from parenting duties, but will not be closed off to others.

Successful applicants will need the drive and talent to benefit the project, but will be helped with their return to work through coaching, mentoring and support.

Applications for the first six opportunities need to be returned by 1 March, with the roles starting in mid-April.

As well as civil engineering-focused roles in operations and asset management, there will be returnships in business planning, law, stakeholder engagement and financial modelling.

Thornton said: “We know women have more career breaks than men and we are using this scheme as part of our strategy to increase diversity on the project.

“We do a lot on diversity with schools, graduates and early years employees but this is a chance to help those who have left the workforce for whatever reason.

“We are looking for people with a real interest in the project, and an attitude to want to be involved.”

Having received planning permission for the mammoth project to prevent sewage spills into the River Thames, Thames Tideway Tunnel is gearing up to start on site next year. It hopes to find permanent roles for people interested in staying on after their returnships.

Thornton said: “We have a lot of recruitment to do right through to this summer. There will be opportunities.”

The company will also consider the possibility of extending the returnships initiative beyond this intake.

“We have other roles that we can start to look at,” said Thornton. “I don’t see this as a one-off.”

The gender parity ambition remains part of the super sewer project, Thornton added.

“It is still our aim,” she said. “We have a way to go but this is an important part of that.”

Thames Tideway Tunnel is also working with internal and external groups and carrying out staff surveys as it looks to boost diversity.

“The language we use is important to attracting people,” added Thornton. “The project can come across as a big hole in the ground but we need to talk about the legacy we want to leave for London.”

The project promoter will also help returners balance work with other areas of their lives, and will consider flexible working.

Julianne Miles, director and co-founder of career break advocates Women Returners, said: “We are delighted to be partnering with Thames Tideway Tunnel on the Tideway Returner Programme, showing UK business that people can come back from a career break into productive and vital roles. 

“The programme offers the organisation access to a largely untapped pool of high-calibre experienced and motivated women and gets over potential ‘CV gap’ concerns of hiring managers about their lack of recent experience.”

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