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Rachel’s Story: Returning to engineering at Tideway


I had been at home for 9 years raising three boys and finally reached the point where the youngest was heading to school the following September.

Having stayed in touch with many peers from my University and pre-children military days, I was given a great deal of encouragement that I could and should return to project management in the construction industry – essentially what I had been trained to do during my time with the Royal Engineers.

I wasn’t daunted by the prospect of returning to work but then I trusted my friends implicitly and realised that I was confident of my abilities and had a great deal that I wanted to contribute. My time at home and life experiences had provided me with an invaluable opportunity to develop my personal and professional skill set, despite having been out of a paid work place for a considerable time.

Running a busy household whilst undertaking a plethora of voluntary roles in the wider community, (as many former professionals at home do), as well as dealing with the challenges that life throws at you, I believe, not only makes you a stronger person, but offers unbeatable training in negotiation, patience, empathy and humility as well as all the complex administration, strategy and planning that end up becoming second nature.  (Be confident; now successfully back to work, I truly believe that time at home is as relevant and valuable as time at work, in terms of your personal and professional development.)

As I didn’t have any recent professional qualifications I starting working my way through the APM project management course (literature kindly provided by a former colleague) and arranged some unpaid ‘work experience’ through another contact within the Oil Industry.  (Your own personal network is invaluable!)  Had Oil & Gas economics been better at the time, this introduction and experience might have led to employment, but it was not to be.
My issue was, that due to family commitments, I didn’t feel I would be able to go back to full time work and I assumed that I would need to be close to home.  How could I possibly manage to fit in a commute?

I re-wrote my CV with help and advice from friends and researched part time and flexible working options. Unfortunately the available options were limited.  Locally, I began to approach companies and apply for project management roles but very soon realised that the jobs advertised were full time and my CV gap WAS an issue. I was even patronizingly pointed to a spouses’ organisation by an ex-Army recruitment agency – who surely should have been supportive of my desire to restart my career.

Convinced (and reassured by my work experience) that if I could ‘get my foot in the door’ I would be able to demonstrate my career break wasn’t an issue and that I could be productive working flexibly, I had nevertheless hit a wall!

And then, as if by magic, I spotted an article about Women Returners and the returnship concept on the Workpond webpage.

The idea of a returnship scheme was exactly what I had been looking for.  The returnships mentioned were all in the financial and legal sector, so I emailed the Women Returners to find out if there was anything available within project management.  The timing of my request couldn’t have been more fortunate.  Women Returners explained that they were developing the concept of returnships in other sectors and told me to look out for the imminent Tideway returners’ scheme.

The opportunity was perfect.  A tunnelling construction project designed to clean up the Thames.  An engineering project with PM roles and of great interest to me with my geographical/environmental degree and rowing background. The scheme was to start after Easter and run for 12 weeks.  It was London based which meant a commute, but I was able to rationalise that it would be a great experience and for that length of time we, as a family, would manage.

I applied, was invited for interview and was offered a placement to start a couple of weeks later with six other returners.

The Tideway experience has been invaluable. It was clear from the outset of the interview, thanks to the company’s foresight and Women Returners involvement, that our career breaks were not being seen in a negative light, that our individual life experiences were valued and that we were being seriously considered for senior management roles. With an instant support network of fellow returners and Tideway and Women Returners providing sound advice and great mentoring and coaching support, the transition to back to full time work was made to feel almost seamless.   Having found the experience so rewarding and fulfilling, towards the end of the 12 weeks, I applied for three roles on the project and was thrilled to be offered three opportunities.  I opted for a permanent position as Change Manager of the West tunnel delivery team.  I am working full time (something I never imagined to be possible) on a truly exciting and inspiring project thanks to the pioneering work of Women Returners and a bold move by Tideway to be the first project in the sector to trial the scheme.