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Insights The secret to transforming your returnship into a brilliant career

Hello, I'm Jamila Bhaiji, an Environmental Consultant working in the Environment and Sustainability Group in ADS&T. As part of my role,  I also work with the ADS&T Net Zero and Social Value Change Initiative Team. 

I started my career as a Geological Engineer working in contaminated land environmental assessments for oil & gas industry in Alberta, Canada. I also worked on brownfield remediation projects for the City of Calgary. Transitioning from that role, I began work in Mineral Exploration consulting, doing resource estimates and mine planning for coal, oil sands and oil shale deposits in the US, Canada, the Middle East and Indonesia. 

When I moved over to the UK, my main work involved consulting for mineral exploration, due diligence reports, and pre-feasibility and feasibility studies for mineral resource development. Alongside I also did Geotech slope stability assessments and environmental site assessments.

Photo of Jamila looking towards the camera

Here are my six tips on not just getting back into work, but into a rewarding career:
1. How long should a career break be?

How long do you need it to be? Mine was seven and a half years. My career break coincided with a downturn in the mining commodity markets and having more caring and family responsibilities in my personal life. 

The Covid-19 pandemic happened just when I was considering returning to work and when society started to open up, I felt it was a good opportunity to think about getting back into work. After such a significant career gap, I targeted companies that promoted a Return to work Programme as I felt the additional support such a programme would provide would be invaluable. 

2. How do you reenter the workplace?

Once I decided that I was ready to return to work, I turned my hunt for employment into my daily job. I updated my resume writing skills and honed my interview techniques. I saw the opportunity with Atkins advertised and I was able to confidently apply.  I felt all my prep work really helped, especially during the interview phase, and I was very pleased when they offered me a position through their Returner Programme.  

The Atkins returner programme is well structured, incorporating what they've learnt from previous returners. They have a formal programme with external coaching which helps returners progress their career, build their personal brand, gain confidence and rebuild their professional networks. 

Atkins also upskills their line managers on how to line manage a returner's unique requirements. As a returner, you are also given six weeks as an adjustment period without the pressure to deliver on productive work.

3. Finding a good employer

I wanted to work at Atkins because of its reputation for technical excellence and the work-life flexibility they offer to employees. I liked that they develop your skills and strengths and provide the flexibility to grow as a professional in the direction you want your career to go.

4. Why you should value your transferable skills

In my 9 years in the natural resources industry, I gained a broad range of experience, demonstrating my capabilities and adaptability. So even though my two current roles at Atkins are very different from my previous career experiences my background serves me well as I navigate my way through. Both my team leads and line manager have been fantastic in helping me find the right opportunities and  develop. 

My first six months have gone by in a flash. I've met fantastic and highly skilled professionals across the business. I have really enjoyed working in collaborative team environments, which has allowed me to refresh my business communication skills and gain technical skills in environmental asset management and business change management. 

5. Flexible working at Atkins

After my break, getting back to work and balancing childcare were bound to be challenging, but my colleagues and managers have been supportive. They've shared what works for them, and I have found a work pattern that works for my family and me. As I approach my first summer holidays as a working parent, I am even more grateful for the flexible working options available, I find that really helps when balancing child care responsibilities with work. 

There is also a refreshing openness when it comes to family. I really feel Atkins sets realistic expectations and recognizes employees' personal obligations and need for work/life balance.

6. You'll feel respected and empowered.

Inside Atkins, I feel as welcomed and valued as employees who haven't been on a career break, and no one negates what I bring to the table. At first, I felt quite nervous and experienced a lot of imposter syndrome, especially as I don't have the same technical background as my team, but everyone on both teams has been supportive, encouraging, and ready to help me in my professional development. 

I would say to those coming in on the next Atkins Returner cohort. 'be proud of the experience you bring. It won't necessarily be an easy transition, but you can do it, and you will be surrounded by people willing to help'.
Learn more about how Atkins can support your return to the world of work.