The Portsmouth based firm helping over 80 engineers return to the STEM industry

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A mum was given a second chance at her career in STEM after a Portsmouth-based engineering firm was among the first to embrace inclusion.

When Natalie Desty started STEM Returners in 2017, she knew she would need the support of one of engineering’s largest firms to help break down the stigma of career breaks.

BAE Systems, in Portsmouth, was one of the first companies in the UK to welcome a STEM Returners programme, a short-term paid employment placement for candidates who have been out of work for a period of time.

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The success of the first programme has led to a five-year partnership, which has returned nearly 86 engineers back to the STEM industry.

Natalie Desty, Director of STEM Returners.Natalie Desty, Director of STEM Returners.
Natalie Desty, Director of STEM Returners.

To celebrate the partnership and continue their drive to improve inclusion, BAE and STEM Returners have launched their largest programme to date. Twenty roles will be available over the next year, including project engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, software engineering and electronics engineering, at the Portsmouth site.

Natalie said: ‘After working in marine recruitment for many years, I could see how hard it was for STEM professionals who had been out of employment to re-enter their profession. I wanted to provide an inclusive way back for those talented people who were being let down by outdated recruitment methods and bias that prevent them from getting an interview, let alone being offered the role.

‘I was thrilled that BAE Systems saw and supported what we were trying to do and that we share similar objectives of increasing the numbers of returners in the workplace, helping people understand the benefits of inclusion and diversity and raising awareness of unconscious bias.

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Charlotte Minton completed the programme with BAE Systems.Charlotte Minton completed the programme with BAE Systems.
Charlotte Minton completed the programme with BAE Systems.

‘We are very proud to be continuing our partnership with BAE Systems. Only by working together to create a supportive and inclusive environment where returners can really thrive, will we deal with the well-known skills shortage in the UK engineering industry.’

Vaughan Meir, head of engineering projects group at BAE, said: ‘The introduction of the STEM Returner programme at BAE Systems has gone from strength to strength since it was introduced back in 2017. With the ever-present challenge of recruiting experienced and highly skilled people to deliver the engineering and technology work we do, the STEM Returner programme has given our business access to an untapped source of talented people who have in many cases often struggled to get noticed during their time applying for STEM related vacancies across UK industry.’

The pilot programme started in May 2018 and saw four candidates take part in a 12-week paid programme. Since then, 86 people have enrolled on programmes at BAE sites across the UK including in Scotland. A third of candidates are women and a third are from ethnic minority backgrounds. Current programmes are taking place at BAE Systems Submarines at their sites in Portsmouth, Frimley, Weymouth and Bristol.

One person to complete the programme with BAE Systems in Portsmouth is Charlotte Minton.

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Charlotte worked in the defence industry leading multiple configuration and data management programmes, which was a demanding role taking her away from home frequently. When this started to impact on her daughter, she made the choice to find a more flexible role and retrained as a computer science teacher.

However, 10 years later she wanted to return to STEM, but was unsure what training she would need or what entry level positions would be suitable. She was doubtful over whether she would be considered for an engineering role after a long absence and whether her new skills would be transferable.

Fortunately, however, she saw a STEM Returners advert and has not looked back. Charlotte joined BAE in October 2019 as the principal configuration engineer for the Type 26 Programme and was made a full-time employee in November 2019. In January 2022, she was promoted to the digital data manager for ILS covering multiple programmes, a role she is really enjoying.

‘I was excited by the idea of restarting my career,’ Charlotte said. ‘Something for me after many years of being a mum. I didn’t send the application straight away mostly due to having self-doubt as to whether I would qualify. Looking back now, I held the unfounded belief that the skills I had gained during my time away from engineering weren’t applicable, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

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‘The STEM Returner Programme is designed and tailored to meet the needs of the individual. Having the introductory period helps both the employee and employer make the right and informed decisions in terms of moving forward.’

Annual research from STEM Returners, which is based near Southampton, shows that bias in the recruitment process prevents engineers from returning to employment after a career break.

Whilst the scheme helps solve the problem of sourcing talent in sectors that need it, it also has the added benefit of increasing diversity in a host organisation. STEM Returners’ population of experienced professionals who are attempting to return to work are 46 per cent female and 44 per cent from ethnic minority groups, compared to 14 per cent female and nine per cent from ethnic minority groups working in industry.

In total, more than 310 people STEM Returner candidates have joined programmes across the UK, since 2017.

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‘The support offered by BAE has been great, I have regular reviews with my line manager, training opportunities and have a great development plan to work towards. I still pinch myself sometimes that I’m here,’ adds Charlotte.

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