Part-time solution?

Materials World magazine
,
1 Jul 2014

Rachel Lawler looks at the benefits of part-time work for employers as well as staff.  

Part-time workers account for just 6.6% of top-level jobs. For many people, the term part-time does not just mean reduced hours. The phrase has become synonymous with low-level, unskilled work. The number of available flexible or part-time roles in technical sectors is far lower than the number of candidates seeking these jobs.

Sarah Hill, Founder and CEO of recruitment and consultancy firm Capability Jane, became frustrated with the situation when looking for part-time work after taking a break to have a family. She explains, ‘I was told that, because I had been out of work for two years, my skills were out of date. When I said that I was looking for part-time or flexible working – that was when the shutters went up.’

Luckily for Hill, she managed to overcome this concern. She says, ‘In the end I was head hunted and got a great job, but I didn’t forget my experience and I wanted to do something about it’. So she founded Capability Jane, a firm dedicated to recruiting quality part-time roles and providing insight for companies looking to expand their part-time and flexible working capabilities.

Through this work she has found that part-time work is not only what many employees want, but also discovered that it can be rewarding for their employers too. She explains, ‘In terms of larger organisations, it’s not that somebody working part-time is beneficial in itself – it’s about the talent’. There is a large number of highly skilled, brilliant workers on the market who are only available part-time.

And this doesn’t only apply to large firms. Hill says, ‘There really is an argument for smaller entrepreneurial businesses who are able to get really experienced talent that they wouldn’t be able to afford full-time. This is where it [part-time work] really benefits employers. There are some exceptionally talented workers looking for part-time and flexible positions.’

Hill advises those looking to go part-time to consider their employer’s viewpoint. She says, ‘You need to be absolutely realistic. You need to understand that flexible working has to be commercially viable for the business.’ She adds, ‘My advice to individuals would be to really understand and demonstrate how they can still deliver what the business needs within a flexible working pattern’.

Many teams assume that part-time workers will be difficult to manage, and don’t believe they have the capability. Hill considers there to be good reasons for this reluctance. She says, ‘There are many different ways of working flexibly. But not all of these options will work for every role. For example in a role where there is an absolute need for someone to be responsive all the time, or if you have no control over the level of workflow it can be very difficult. If you are working a four-day week, what happens on the fifth day? The success of flexible working really depends on the design of the role and how it is implemented...There needs to be support and training for managers to help them create a high performance team that may not necessarily be in the same location every day of the week.’

Ultimately, part-time must work for employers and, Hill says, ‘It is not about what benefits the working person’. Rather, the argument for a greater number of flexible roles must come from a business perspective. But with a growing skills shortage in the UK and a continuing lack of women in engineering fields, part-time roles could provide a much-needed solution to several recruiting problems. Because as Hill says, ‘A lot of people, and particularly women, want to work part-time’. And it looks like the industry is starting to change. A scholarship at Brunel University is offering women a chance to return to work as part of the institution’s Women in Engineering programme.

Petra Gratton, MSc Course Director at Brunel, says, ‘Re-entering the profession after advanced study is a highly effective solution but not nearly as well-known as it ought to be. At Brunel we are very familiar with students from one discipline using a master’s programme to move into another, so our courses are structured with that in mind.’ She adds that the scholarships are ideal for returning graduate engineers.

In total there are 40 scholarships available to UK and EU citizens, with funding from the Higher Education Council for England. Mark Howard, also from Brunel, says, ‘As well as Babcock and TWI, we have informal links with a number of large engineering employers including National Rail, BAE Systems and Shell’. Each scholarship is worth up to £22,750 and could open up a route back into engineering for several women.

In numbers
89% of workers want access to flexible career opportunities

60% would ideally like to work part-time or in a job share

54% of workers look for jobs with home working

24% work full-time and are happy to continue doing so

Job prospects improved with CEng
Energy professionals with chartered status receive higher salaries, better job security and improved work/life balance than those without, according to a survey of more than 1,000 professionals. The figures were published in the 2014 Hays Energy Salary and Benefits Guide, produced with support from the Energy Institute. To read the full report, visit www.energyinst.org/energy-salary-and-benefits-guide-2014

Graduate scheme launched
Equipment manufacturer, Yamato Scale UK has launched a graduate scheme to help expand its actuator repair facilities in the Leeds area. The firm has focused on local graduates and are offering recruits training alongside industry experience. Any graduates interested in applying for the scheme should email info@yamatoscale.co.uk for more information.

For more information about Brunel’s Women In Engineering programme contact Petra Gratton at WomenInEngineering@brunel.ac.uk

To find out more about Capability Jane, visit www.capabilityjane.com