Returning to work after children – my journey so far

Posted by Lydia Bennie
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Return to work

As a commited equal opportunities employer, Netcel strives to support people of all ages, backgrounds and experience levels to get into the digital workplace. Recently we were able to provide return-to-work mum, Lydia Bennie, with a week of job shadowing to help inform her career choices. Here Lydia provides an account of her time with Netcel.

I’ve spent 11 years out of full-time work, bringing up my two children.  I’ve been working part time for five of these years fitting work around my children and school hours. Although I love many aspects of my Teaching Assistant role at my children’s school and the French and Spanish classes that I run for local children at my house, I have desires to go back into a business environment and really fulfil my potential within it.  
 
Here lies the first hurdle. What does the business environment now look like?  I was in my late 20s when I was last in an office.  I had younger eyes and a younger outlook.  My first fear was that I was too old to start again.  Rightly or wrongly, I thought, “Who would choose a 40 year old woman with no recent or relevant experience, when there is a glut of bright young things to choose from?”  It is an unnerving time and takes a lot of courage.  
 
My first decision was to decide that I actually had nothing to lose.  I needed information, I needed to research, plan and of course dream a little bit about what this future career would look like.  But where to start?  The internet is obviously a fantastic resource but I needed a direction to start me off.  Googling the local university Masters courses came up with an MSc in Global Project Management.  I love planning and organising so thought I had cracked it. Bingo. There was just one problem:  I had an idea on what a PM was, but in reality, what does the day-to-day job look like? I wanted to know more before signing up for a 9k course and heading off down that path at full-pelt.  
 
I am fortunate enough that my sister works at digital consultancy, Netcel.  I knew they had project managers and I knew that it was a friendly company.  Here lay the start of a perfect opportunity.  Although people will help you along the way, you do need to be proactive so I followed my “nothing to lose” mantra and asked my sister if she could enquire about a work shadowing opportunity for me.  The brief was a bit vague as although my primary interest was Project Management, I basically wanted to explore. Thankfully they agreed and childcare arrangements were made. I felt like I was in my 20s again!
 
I am so glad that I took the plunge. Even though I arrived at the office on Monday morning wondering why I was putting myself through it, immediately some of my fears were allayed.  Of course it does help if you walk in with your sister who already works there, but everyone was friendly and welcoming and that scary office that I had been dreading didn’t materialise.  My other fear of trying to start again at “my age” was also quickly quashed.  Everyone was supportive and pleased to offer their help and expertise. Being able to have conversations with real people about their career paths and how they came to be in their roles helped me to stop worrying so much about having to follow a rigid path.  I quickly grew in confidence.
 
I had an extensive and varied shadowing schedule and each of these opportunities was fascinating. What was someone else’s daily grind, to me was an honest and interesting insight into what a particular job actually involves.  I felt privileged to have been able to shadow so many people across senior roles in Project Management, Support, Account Management, Business Analysis and Marketing.  Although I don’t have a digital background, they patiently explained their roles to me and I saw how the many layers of the company and the roles linked up.  A rare insight indeed.  And with only four days exposure, my knowledge of a digital environment has increased enormously.  This has given me the confidence to not be put off by sectors of which I have no previous knowledge or experience.
 
Another hurdle when returning to work is obviously the digital explosion that has happened in the last decade.  I have always been pretty computer literate but was anxious about being a dinosaur and finding the amount of technology overwhelming.  On the contrary, I found desks full of screens and not paper, very refreshing and created a calming sense of order.  I was shown all the systems that they use to manage the work flow and I rejoiced at the notion of a joined-up approach to work and clear communication channels.  Obviously I would need training on new systems in any new workplace and would probably seek to familiarise myself with some of them before looking for work, but I no longer feel that would be a barrier
 
I started off shadowing project managers and shadowed four different people over two days and did not see the same task twice.  The constant variation, as well as being interesting, highlighted, not only how varied the role is but the scope, which included both internal and external communication.  I identified many aspects of this role that I would find particularly interesting including the contact with clients. I was also able to access online training videos in Agile Project Management and saw the theory presented to me on the video and then saw and heard it put into practice in a work environment.  It was already more useful than sitting in a classroom doing a Masters, especially for a hands-on learner like me.  I found the concepts of Agile Project Management very interesting and was a completely different approach from the traditional model that I was expecting.
 
The following days entailed moving around different parts of the company.  I was surprised to find how much I liked many aspects of each role, especially in roles that I had not previously considered.  All the people I shadowed were so friendly, approachable and open with me. It was definitely an extremely beneficial experience as I found that although I loved the client interaction and the planning and organizing aspects of Project Management, I feel that I need to have a role that combines these attributes with more analysis or research.  I am therefore going to explore areas such as Business Analysis but also roles within marketing such as SEO and UX research.
 
I had some invaluable advice from HR to look for internships in the future instead of doing a Masters.  This is what I will be looking to do when I have fully researched the areas and types of company I would like to go into.  My time at Netcel has made me realise how important the latter is. I thought that the role would be the main factor but I have found that the work environment for me is probably more important.  I had a brilliant time at Netcel and met such lovely people. I hope to find a company like it closer to my home.  This was the first step on the long journey towards my future career but now I feel at least I am heading in the right direction and have a lot of avenues to explore in 2017. Thank you Netcel!