OPINION: A quick tour of the planets on my long road back to the office

OPINION: A quick tour of the planets on my long road back to the office

Richard Ferrer has become a leading voice on Jewish communal issues since becoming editor of the Jewish News in 2009, writing about contemporary Jewish life for a national audience. He edited the Boston Jewish Advocate, America's oldest Jewish newspaper and created the Channel 4 series Jewish Mum of the Year.

Suzy Rosenthal

By Suzy Rosenthal

“It’s because mum isn’t out in the world,” I heard someone say to my teenage daughter. This came as something of a revelation. If I’m not in the world, where am I? On another planet? Then I realised – she thinks I’ve been living on “Planet Full-Time Mum”.

A while ago, I decided it was time to return to Planet Work. It hadn’t occurred to me it would be difficult; I had several years’ experience before children. But after applying for part-time jobs and getting little response, I concluded it might take some sort of spaceship to return me back to Planet Work. And I wasn’t sure I had the rocket science.

An article in The Independent on 7 May referred to a “forgotten army of women over the age of 50 who want to work but cannot find jobs”. Figures show the number of unemployed women over 50 has risen by 45 percent since 2010, while the number of unemployed men over 50 has fallen by 13 percent.

So discovering a new ’Back to Work’ programme for women who had spent time out of the workplace seemed an opportunity too good to miss. Run by TrainE-TraidE – a communal organisation that provides support to get people into or back into work or to set up businesses. The first Back to Work programme began in May for 30 Jewish women.

TrainE-TraidE’s Judy Silkoff said the programme came about when the company realised a lot of women were approaching it for help finding jobs. “Something was holding them back, because they had skills and experience but maybe they hadn’t worked for a while,” she says.

With funding from Barnet Council and its Big Society Innovation Bank, TrainE-TraidE set up a stand-alone, bespoke programme for women. Participants are aged from mid-20s to 60s and come from all backgrounds, from secular to Orthodox. Some were never in paid employment before having children; others had successful careers. They have three things in common – they’re all women, all Jewish and they all want to work.

A number of the women come from the Orthodox community where, Silkoff explains, things are changing. The economic reality is that families need two incomes and, besides this, women want something else once their families are growing. And because the programme is based in the community, there is an understanding of the challenges they face.

In this way, the TrainE-TraidE programme is one-of-a-kind. While other employment services, such as Resource serving the north London Jewish community and various internet-based services, such as WomenLikeUs for women wanting to return to work, Judy has found nothing offering a back-to-work programme for the Jewish community in London.

It has certainly provided some of the rocket science I feel I need, with several weeks of IT training followed by workshops covering everything from CV-writing to interview techniques to networking and using social media. Training and workshops are led by women, many of whom have also had career breaks.

All 30 women have been offered work placements and mentors. As a former journalist and sub-editor, my placement was at Jewish News, where editor Richard Ferrer was welcoming and good humoured – a relief, particularly as my first shift was on press day.

Since I last worked on a weekly newspaper, there have been massive changes in technology and there is not a newspaper now that does not have a presence online.

Reassuringly, however, the office feels like familiar territory: I realise my basic skills are still there and functioning despite my years on “Planet Mum”. In fact, as the TrainE-TraidE programme has shown us, we all have valuable transferable skills to offer. We haven’t been living on another planet.

Apart from more Back to Work programmes, we need employers and HR professionals to recognise the experience and skills we have, whatever our age, rather than throwing our CVs away because they have gaps in them from when we’ve been busy raising the next generation of employees for Planet Work.

Suzy took part in TrainE-TraidE’s ‘Women Back to Work’ programme.  

TrainE-TraidE is holding its inaugural fundraising dinner on 10 July at the Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane, with Dragon’s Den investor Kelly Hoppen as guest speaker. It will enable TrainE-TraidE to continue its vital work in the community, helping even greater numbers of people source employment and become work-ready.

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