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Insights What is our Returners Programme? An inside look at returnships

Maria rejoined Atkins, a member of the AtkinsRéalis Group, in 2018. After going through a divorce and living abroad for 11 years, she'd decided to return to the UK. She was keen to find somewhere permanent to settle her kids into school and return to work.

"I was lucky enough to have started my career with Atkins as a graduate back in the late 1980s. Over thirty years later, I was offered a place on the Returners Programme. I'm now a geotechnical engineer in Ground Engineering & Tunnelling and a line manager."

Maria, how did you find out about the Returners programme with Atkins?

I received a notification on LinkedIn that Atkins was holding a recruitment event in a hotel in Croydon, near London. I was very apprehensive about going along as I'd been out of the industry for 17 years. Two friends encouraged me to register for the event. So I went along.

It was great to have the opportunity to speak to people in Ground Engineering (who are now my colleagues). These conversations encouraged me to apply. It was exciting being offered a place on the Returners Programme, but also pretty scary!

What's your experience with Atkins been as a returner?

I was in the first cohort of Returners, so there were a few teething issues with the programme. Despite that, my journey has been positive. I'm developing my career, growing my network and feeling supported.

I was paired up with a great buddy Ground Engineering. My buddy was invaluable in helping me settle in, navigate internal processes and meet colleagues. I quickly joined ParentNet, which proved to be a great source of support, information and an opportunity to get involved in our extraordinary Equality, Diversity & Inclusion (ED&I) initiatives.

Being part of ParentNet helped me develop a network outside Ground Engineering and Tunnelling, and I'm now on the committee.

image of Maria smiling

How would you describe the experience of being back at work?

The first three months back were really challenging, from getting back up to speed technically to understanding internal processes, getting to grips with new software and adjusting to life as a working parent.

It was also tricky socially as I was in an early career role but not of early career age. However, things got much easier with time, helped by working on a long-term ground investigation with a great team of people and making friends through ParentNet.

What have been some of your highlights since being back?

In 2020 I was invited to join Women in Materials, Minerals and Mining. It's a committee in the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3), the professional body I'm chartered with. It's been a fantastic opportunity to continue my work in ED&I and grow my network further.

Later in 2020, I was promoted to line manager, a role I relish, and featured in a Guardian article about Returners.

In early 2021 I was interviewed for an IOM3 podcast themed 'Inspiring Women.' Later that year, I won the Geotechnical Network's ED&I Award. I was promoted again in March 2021 to the role of chartered geotechnical engineer! I now manage a team of seven early career professionals, which I find really rewarding.

What have you learned since joining Atkins?

Every day has been a brain-growing experience. While the fundamentals of geotechnical engineering didn't change during my career break, technology has changed enormously. I'm very grateful to my younger colleagues for answering my questions about using the software. I would say this has been the steepest learning curve for me!

I really enjoy the opportunity to support early-career colleagues, both as a line manager and on a more informal basis. I am also excited to be working for a company that is ahead of the curve in ED&I.

What training and support have you received since returning to work?

I have had excellent line managers, who support and empower me. This has really helped me feel like a valued member of the Ground Engineering and Tunnelling business and that I belong. I get a lot of on-the-job support from my colleagues and hope that they feel I support them too.

As part of the Atkins' Returners Programme, I took part in an online Returners course, which provided training in everything from self-esteem to career conversations. I have also undertaken the Atkins Women's Development Programme (now rebranded as INSPIRE), which I found very useful. I have also undertaken a series of training modules on managing people, which have been really interesting.

Atkins has a fantastic flexible working culture which helps me enjoy all the things I love in life: my children, running, yoga and baking.

What would you say to candidates thinking about returning to the world of work?

I would encourage anyone to return to the workplace. It has been a really rewarding and confidence-boosting experience. Also, be prepared for the settling period to be challenging, but stick with it, as the rewards are worth it.

Thinking about restarting your career? Join the #InsideAtkins Talent Community to stay in touch with us and explore the opportunities.