Giving women the spark to get back into the workforce

WORDS Jill Hogan
IMAGES Adam McGrath

A return to work after a career break can be daunting for anyone. Whether taking time off to raise children, care for a family member, study, travel, or move somewhere new, an interruption to work can have a considerable impact on a person’s career and self-confidence. And research shows, these career interruptions are much more common for women.

It’s something Shilpa Patil knows very well. After starting her career working in IT in India, she moved to Australia with her partner in 2015. For the next three years living in Melbourne, despite consistently applying for roles, reaching out to employers, and networking, she found it difficult to find work, even once she was granted her permanent residency. She faced rejection after rejection, usually coupled with the feedback that she was lacking in local experience.

In 2018, she finally got a break and secured a role working in IT, which she loved. At the same time, she found out she was expecting her first child, and after eight months, took another career break to raise her son. During her maternity leave, Shilpa’s partner got a job in Canberra, so the family moved north.

When she was ready to return to work, Shilpa started looking for jobs in Canberra. With eight months of work experience in Melbourne under her belt, she thought it would be an easier process this time around. But with no real contacts in Canberra, she found herself back at square one.

“I really struggled, because I wanted to be working. I was willing to do any job, even if it was just a couple of hours a day or anything, but still had no success. You feel depressed and that you’re not worth anything,” says Shilpa

It was during a visit to the family health centre in Tuggeranong that Shilpa’s nurse suggested she find out more about the SPARK Women Return to Work program. The program, which is free for eligible women, is part of the suite of courses offered by Ginninderry’s award-winning SPARK Training and Employment Program. Delivered in partnership with Empowered Collective and the ACT Government Office for Women, it’s designed to support women who are entering or returning to the workforce, and is held twice a year, with options on both Canberra’s north and south side.

The program is made up of three separate workshops, covering the essentials for women hoping to return to work. The first covers resumes, cover letters and how to apply for jobs, the second is all about job interview techniques and how to answer interview questions, and the third focusses on personal presentation, styling, and putting your best foot forward.

Deborah Fulton from Empowered Collective who runs the workshops, says the program has helped a wide range of women who are ready to get back into the workforce, but find themselves facing barriers.

“Lots of women are returning from maternity leave, and their children are now into primary school or preschool, and they feel that they’ve got a little bit more flexibility to start concentrating on their goals again. And there’s some people who have cared for their parents or cared for a sibling. Some have moved to Australia in the last few years, and don’t have the skills to navigate the job hunting scheme, because it’s incredibly complex sometimes. There might be language barriers as well, so we’ll point the women to perhaps do some English classes,” she says.

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