"Where has all the talent gone?" is the eternal cry I hear from the boardrooms of agencies, with CEOs and recruitment directors scratching their heads as they try to find great people to fill senior roles. With UK employment at an all-time high, there is a candidate shortage.
There is a problem with the supply chain. At the bottom, fewer graduates are putting PR at the top of their career wish-list and then at the more senior end there has been an exodus of talented PRs in their 30s & 40s who, once they became parents, wanted more flexibility.
A decade ago many women, in particular, left the industry, often after the birth of their second child, because they found it difficult to get any flexibility from their employers.
Agencies were not offering the flexible working options that they offer today.
Agencies have learned that to lose talent at Associate level upwards when they become parents, which is often just the time that talent starts to consider going in-house, is a double whammy.
Agencies work much harder now at keeping their talent during the early years of parenthood, because it is better to allow flexibility and agile working than lose talent.
Dial back to between 2007 and 2015 and some of these women fell into the PR equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle.
Some have re-trained for other professions, others have decided to work locally and freelance.
There are scores who want to return. Some parents have been out of the profession for just three years, but some have been out for up to 10 years.
Many want to work full -time – some, just a bit more agile; these candidates are often more digitally savvy than you think.
Shared parental leave will impact on men, and more dads may decide to take extended time out of their careers to look after a young family.
So, it’s not just a women’s problem.
The plain fact is that mums and dads who take time out of their careers to look after their children find it difficult to get back in and there are very few flexible opportunities to get back to permanent work in PR after a career break.
The PR sector has been good at hiring contract people when there is a shortage of permanent candidates or when there is an unexpected increase in work.
But what about the huge hidden pool of resource? Surely parent returners should be at the top of the ladder when thinking about the talent gap.
Returnships are short-term paid positions, project-based, typically with training and some mentoring support.
They are one of the routes back to work and immediately solve the problem of a gap (in a career) on a CV.
They give both candidate and company the chance to ‘try each other out first’ before fully committing to a permanent employee position. Both parties benefit.
Returnships should be a natural part of the recruitment and talent-sourcing process as graduate internships. A supported returner makes business sense.
Amanda Fone is founder and CEO of f1 recruitment