The ST Guide To... Returning to the workforce

Tips to ease transition back to work

Options to help restart careers are aplenty, but some preparation is needed beforehand

Looking for a new job after a long period away from work can be a daunting task for stay-at-home mums.

Their common concerns usually range from "Are my skills outdated?" to "Will I be able to balance work and family?"

It appears that more women want to work, as indicated in the labour force participation rate for female Singaporeans and permanent residents.

In the past 10 years, the rate has risen from 54.3 per cent in 2006 to 60.4 per cent last year.

The good news for mums heading back to work is that there are various ways to smoothen the transition.

Here are some tips, which could also apply to dads or anyone who has taken a career break because of illness or to look after elderly parents.

FLEXIBLE WORK

Flexi-work arrangements could include working from home several days a month, choosing a start and end time that suits your family's schedule, or working part-time.

Job seekers at a career fair at the Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability earlier this year. The organisation also holds workshops to help those who want to brush up on resume-writing and interview skills.
Job seekers at a career fair at the Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability earlier this year. The organisation also holds workshops to help those who want to brush up on resume-writing and interview skills. ST FILE PHOTO

These have become more common in recent years, with government grants offered to coax employers to set up such programmes.

LAY THE GROUNDWORK

Women often focus on how to integrate back into the workplace, but they need to do the prep work on the home front as well. 

MRS SHER-LI TORREY, founder of Mums@Work and co-founder of Career Navigators, on how families must be ready for changes when women return to work.

Last year, almost half (47 per cent) of the companies in Singapore offered at least one formal flexi-work arrangement, while three-quarters (77 per cent) offered ad hoc arrangements, a Manpower Ministry survey shows.

Discuss such options with potential employers, and ask them to set clear work expectations so that later, you will not be seen as underperforming.

Check the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) website to see which companies have adopted the tripartite standard on flexible work arrangements.

Companies listed on its website have made a commitment to, among other things, offering flexi-work options and having their supervisors trained in managing and appraising fairly employees on such arrangements.

If you join a company and feel the commitments are not fulfilled, you can inform Tafep, which will help the company improve.

SHORT-TERM PROJECTS

If you are worried about not having the relevant skills or experience for the digital economy, take on a short-term project or contract work to ease back into your previous industry or into a new one.

These can give you room to hone new skills and manage one project at a time, before applying for a permanent position.

Both the National Trades Union Congress and Career Navigators - an arm of social enterprise Mums@ Work - have programmes to link professionals, managers, executives and technicians with companies offering job trials with pay.

Career Navigators focuses on women.

Employers may not offer you your previous salary if you have little experience in your new role. But evaluate the pay cut against the growth potential of the role, says Mrs Sher-Li Torrey, founder of Mums@Work and co-founder of Career Navigators.

You can make clear to future employers that it was a learning stint.

In small companies, it is often necessary for employees to multi-task.

Be open to new learning opportunities, but look at the learning value of the extra duties you are given, she says.

For example, if you are hired to do digital marketing but asked to do more public relations work as well, consider if it could be a new career option or whether you are being exploited.

Another way to boost your experience is to volunteer your services at non-profit organisations or friends' start-ups. Such offices often need accounting, legal or design services and the projects you complete can be listed in your resume.

STUDYING

Before you apply for jobs, do some extra reading to get up to speed with industry developments and trends.

You can take refresher courses on tech skills such as coding and digital marketing. SkillsFuture Credit, given to all Singaporeans aged 25 and older, can be used to defray the costs.

There are also Professional Conversion Programmes by Workforce Singapore which offer job placements with training for skills in demand. To brush up on interview and resume-writing skills, attend workshops by the Employment and Employability Institute.

STARTING A BUSINESS

If you have good business acumen, you may prefer to be your own boss. It gives you greater flexibility to plan your schedule around family needs.

Start small and look for ways to avoid a large capital outlay, like having an online shop rather than a bricks-and-mortar outlet. As your child grows and becomes more independent, you could build the business into a larger establishment.

PREPARE YOUR FAMILY

Mums are not the only ones who need to adjust when they go back to work.

Family members too may need help to get used to a new way of life, says Mrs Torrey.

"Women often focus on how to integrate back into the workplace, but they need to do the prep work on the home front as well," she says.

To facilitate the change, write down clear plans for caregivers to follow.

These include a timetable for your child and clear duties for caregivers, and back-up plans like what to do if the child misses the school bus, said Mrs Torrey.

List the situations that count either as small emergencies or big emergencies and procedures to follow for each, including when to contact you or who else can also solve the problem.

These will reduce the need for caregivers to contact you over small issues while you are at work.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2017, with the headline 'Tips to ease transition back to work'. Print Edition | Subscribe