Whether due to the high cost of childcare or personal preference, stay-at-home parenting is a choice many educated Americans make. According to a 2018 Pew Research Center study, about 18% of parents stay at home—and at least a quarter of those have college degrees.

But kids grow up. And when they do, many moms and (in increasing numbers) dads want to go back to building their careers.

It’s easier said than done. A 2018 Harvard Business Review study found that parents returning to work were half as likely to receive a callback for an interview as a candidate who was continuously employed or even laid off. Many companies have been reluctant to hire parents who have taken time off from work to raise families, reasoning that their gap in employment shows a lack of commitment to their careers, a deficit in skills and knowledge, or both.

Luckily, that’s changing due to the talent shortage in many fields and the growing number of professionals concerned with work-life balance, says Callie Pfeifer, marketing director for XMI.

“Companies are changing their attitude toward parents who are returning to work and getting more creative about helping them back into the workforce,” says Pfeifer, who joined XMI after taking a nine-year break to raise two daughters. “It’s a great time to be a parent who has stepped away for a while in a field that happens to be in high demand.”

An Untapped Talent Pool

Parents who have spent a few years managing a household offer many valuable soft skills that companies struggle to find, including multitasking, negotiation, time management and conflict resolution.

“There are so many muscles parents have to keep in shape to do it all—and that can make them a very strong team member,” Pfeifer says.

When Pfeifer decided she was ready to return to the workforce, she caught the attention of her future employer not in a stack of resumes, but at her daughter’s elementary school as a parent volunteer.

“She was spearheading a project at the school, and I helped get her out of a sticky situation,” Pfeifer says. “So, when she learned I was looking for work in the field she was hiring for, she wanted to interview me because of how she had seen me navigate that situation.”

Employers may be able to find their next great hire in parents returning to work, not only by taking a second look at their resumes, but also by observing them in venues outside the workforce.

“It’s a good way to assess them in a different environment, and if they bring a high level of dedication and skills to a setting like volunteer work, you can bet they’ll take that to the next level in their profession,” Pfeifer says.

How to Ease the Transition for Parents Returning to Work

Offering support and flexibility, especially in assignments and schedules, can help set these parents up for success and ease their transition back to work. Companies can also help them bring skills and expertise up to speed by providing training resources, such as webinars or online courses—and giving them the time and funding to participate in them.

Many larger organizations like IBM, Walmart and others are rolling out the welcome mat for returning parents by offering returnships, which allow them to refresh their skills and gain experience for a few months, with the promise of eventually getting hired.

Others are providing mentors to help parents navigate learning curves and office culture during their first few months on the job. Hiring parents who want to dip their toes back into the job market for project or part-time work is another option for companies with limited resources.

“You can find great talent among people who need a more flexible schedule, and it can be more affordable for businesses as well,” says Michelle Thompson, director of HR for XMI. “Our experience with a returning mom has been absolutely fantastic.  It has been a win for all, and we will definitely seek out more employees like Callie.”

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