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Supporting the community: Up-skilling career returners

Giving back to the community and elevating others is something we truly value at Zühlke. And empowering underrepresented communities in tech is particularly important to us because diversity, equity and inclusion are close to our heart.

When we first heard about TechReturners, we knew we had to get involved: TechReturners is committed to removing the barriers which returners face after career breaks, and tackles the digital skills shortage by empowering skilled professionals back into technology careers. With a majority of participants from underrepresented backgrounds, the programme doesn’t only address the lack of qualified experts in the tech industry, but also the lack of diversity among those experts.

Team Lead Andrew from Manchester first came across the programme of the TechReturners and saw a great opportunity for us to support the community: "TechReturners present a unique and important opportunity to sponsor, mentor and offer people a route back to a Tech role. We believe this is an under-supported area of talented people who may simply need confidence, refreshed knowledge and a supportive environment that we saw that Tech Returners would provide."

With a team passionate about giving back, sharing knowledge and inspiring others, naturally we were keen to partner and sponsored two cohorts.

A passion for community and equal opportunities for career returners

When asked why he first got involved, Software Engineer Quintin says: "I want to support people coming back after having left the workforce and help them become a part of the developer community."

Senior Software Engineer Anna is equally passionate about community. She has been involved in various initiatives around the thriving Manchester tech community and feels encouraged to continue giving back. "TechReturners offer a great opportunity for returners to learn and try new technologies and methodologies in a safe environment. I totally support this approach and believe that it can accelerate anyone’s career. Therefore, I wanted to be part of it."

Her colleague Ioana shares this passion and sees real value in creating equal opportunities for everyone: "Diversity, equality and inclusion are very important to us at Zuhlke. We recognise that talent comes in various forms and the different experiences shape people as human beings and make them unique. And every small difference in perspective is valuable as it can play a part in creating a better whole."

Despite the recognised benefits of a more diverse workforce, candidates from non-traditional career paths sometimes face challenges early on in the hiring process: "Too often, the CV screening process is biased against career gaps. Years of the industry filtering candidates based on a timeline created a habit of judgement and prejudice. Evaluating someone in this way means that they may miss out on job opportunities where hiring teams are more focused on efficiency rather than the human aspects", Ioana explains.

For her, supporting the TechReturners initiative means pioneering a better way of empowering people who deserve fair opportunities.

A dedicated cohort

As a sponsor of the TechReturners programme, we offered participants guidance and mentorship, gave lightning talks to inspire them, and offered insights into our business and career opportunities.

Anna remembers her first touchpoint with the Manchester cohort: "I met them when I gave a presentation about Zuhlke and talked about my experience and projects here. The Returners were keen to discuss questions and I could feel their enthusiasm about the programme and about tech in general."

She particularly enjoyed the energy in the room with people from various backgrounds and walks of life: "Some of them decided to change their career completely, others returned after a long career break. What they all shared was their positivity and confidence. They were all committed to their individual goals, and they were really focused on achieving them."

Returners put their skills into practice

Ioana and Anna were also involved in creating a ‘Tech-for-Good’ project brief that allowed participants to implement newly learned skills and work collaboratively with other fellow returners.

Anna remembers: "Throughout the program we joined fortnightly sprint reviews to offer input and support. This allowed us to connect with the teams, understand their ways of working and learn more about their personal goals."

Anna found this experience invaluable for herself – not only from a mentoring perspective: "It was also a good opportunity for me personally to learn something new! I’m not really a front-end developer but the team’s enthusiasm about design stuck with me and I’ve learnt some new things about front-end tools."

To establish an even better support network with the returners, Anna and her colleagues eventually created a Slack channel where participants could reach out and discuss their questions outside of the sprint reviews as well.

Skills, community, and career impact

After the final presentations where the teams demonstrated their apps, Quintin was truly impressed: "I have seen some amazing people do spectacular things within a very small time frame. The participants went above and beyond in creating really great experiences for their users.’"

With their broad experience, the participants of the TechReturners programm also brought unique soft skills to the table: "One of the teams has defined ‘improving their team health’ as one of their goals. That was such a great idea which I think should be implemented as a standard in everyone’s work across the industry", Anna says.

She was equally impressed with their collaboration and holistic thinking. It’s skills like these that can’t be demonstrated on a CV but are invaluable for an organisation.

Our involvement has also helped our colleagues build a stronger sense of community and belonging: Working together on a meaningful ‘Tech-for-Good’ project brief and exchanging regular updates and success stories hasn’t only been uplifting and rewarding, it also helped us bond around a shared mission.

"It was a great experience, and I can personally say that I’ve learnt a lot, that’s for sure", Anna concludes – inspired to continue giving back to the community.

Andrew West-Moore
Head of Competence Unit

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