PEOPLE trained in science, technology, engineering and maths are being offered a chance to beat the “career break curse” through a job scheme at BAE Systems.

The defence and aerospace giant has joined with the Hampshire organisation STEM Returners to run a 12-week paid placement for people returning to the sector.

The programme will run in BAE Systems Submarines sites in Portsmouth, Bristol, Weymouth and Frimley, offering roles such as systems engineer, mechanical engineer, systems architects and electrical design engineering.

Its launch comes as STEM returners, based in Lyndhurst, published an annual survey saying 29 per cent of women returning to the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) sector have experienced bias in the recruitment process because of gender, compared with seven per cent of men.

Natalie Desty, director of STEM Returners said: “We are very delighted to be continuing our partnership with BAE Systems to return highly skilled people back into the industry they love and very proud to launch this new programme at the same time as we release the results of our annual survey.

“It’s disappointing to see that 66 per cent of STEM professionals on a career break are finding the process of attempting to return to work either difficult or very difficult and that nearly half of participants said they felt bias because of a lack of recent experience.

“We need to do more to challenge unconscious bias, which prevents so many highly skilled and talented people from returning to work.

“BAE Systems has worked with us from the beginning and share our desire to change outdated recruitment practices. Only by working together to create a supportive and inclusive environment where returners can really thrive, will we deal with the well-known skills shortage in the UK engineering industry.”

Lucy Webb, HR and capability manager at BAE Systems Submarines, said: “Working with STEM Returners to increase opportunities for those looking to return to work allows us to make the most of vital skills and experience that returners can offer.

“STEM Returners plays an important role in increasing the diversity and inclusiveness of our business and our ongoing relationships is a valuable part of our overall recruitment strategy.”

Despite 39 per cent of women wanting to return to work as their children reach school age, 40 per cent feel childcare responsibilities are a barrier to returning because of inflexibility on the part of employers, the STEM Returners research found.

The survey also found men were more likely to be victims of age-based bias – affecting 46 per cent of men compared with 38 per cent of women.

More than half of over-55s saying they had experienced personal bias, while the figure was as low as 23 per cent in younger age groups.

The research also found 34 per cent of returners said the pandemic made getting back to work more difficult than it would have been already.

Covid was also the catalyst for a career break that they might otherwise not have taken, with 36 per cent saying Covid was a factor in their decision to take a break. Redundancy was on the rise as a reason for career breaks – up to 20 per cent in 2022 from 17 per cent the year before.

BAE Systems was the first company in the UK to run a STEM Returners programme in 2017 and has since helped return more than 80 engineers to the STEM industry.