Lifelines and life lines: re-training for women returning to higher level occupations - policy and practice in the UK
The concept of a woman returner is first defined in the context of British practice and tradition. Women returners are then located in relation to demographic patterns of female participation in the labour market in the United Kingdom. The paper reviews the late 1980s as a period in which women returners were seen as a source of labour to replace a demographic downturn in those leaving school at 16 or 18. At this time several initiatives were mounted to help women return to employment or to retain skilled women. The case of graduate or highly qualified women returners is then analysed by reference to a postal survey of over 450 women in four professional areas - science and engineering, law (solicitors), accountancy and nursing (nurses, midwives and health visitors) - carried out in 1991-2, and from the experience of running vocational courses for highly qualified women returners since 1992 to the present day. The research demonstrates the need for and the effectiveness of specialized re-training for this group of women returners in enabling a return to higher level occupations. Both the research and the courses were delivered by a university department for continuing education. As funding for the vocational training comes from the European Social Fund, the article concludes with a discussion of policy initiatives in the European Union in relation to both Equal Opportunities and measures to combat long term unemployment, and at the role of higher education, as compared to further or technical education, in meeting the vocational training needs of women returners.