Back to work after childbirth – when or whether?

pregnant_womenIn the interviews I’ve done for the Confident4Work project, some mothers have told me how they struggle to decide when or even whether they should go back to work after staying home to care for a child or children.

All sorts of factors come into play, not the least of which is the need to supplement the family income, but that often needs to be balanced against the costs of child care.

Other considerations include the need for the parent’s intellectual stimulation, and simply maintaining contact with the world of work. That link with the workplace can be vital if you’re concerned about maintaining your professional status and entitlements.

On the other hand, some mothers feel guilty about returning to work while their children are still young, and feel anxious about placing them in childcare. Others choose not to return to work until the children are older.

It’s a dilemma for which there are no easy answers, because there is often a clash between personal values and pragmatic considerations, not to mention societal pressures.

Here are a couple of studies from the middle of the last decade that provide some international views on the topic:

5000 UK mothers said …

In the UK, Deborah Smeaton, from the Policy Studies Institute, compared two cohorts of women returning to work after childbirth: women who were 30 years of age in 1988 and 2000 respectively. There were roughly 2400 women in each of the two samples, and the average age at which they had given birth to their first child was 24.

Smeaton found that mothers with young children were returning to work increasingly quickly after childbirth, in both cohorts, but that this employment tended to be part time.Mother child The result was that women still took primary responsibility for domestic duties as well as child rearing.

Maintaining professional status and entitlements was seen as one reason for this relatively rapid return to work, although it can also be attributed to an increase in the number of part-time positions available as the services sector expanded, typically a female-dominated workforce.

Of those in the year 2000 group, 57% were back in the workforce within a year of giving birth, compared with 37% in the 1988 cohort.

Smeaton observed that speedier returns to work among the younger cohort ‘were associated with evolving attitudes in terms of the morality of working while children are young’.

In other words, Gen Y mothers were less concerned about leaving their children in care to return to work than were late baby boomer mothers [and perhaps in Gen X].

Or are there other pressures on modern mothers?

10,000 US mothers said…

In another northern hemisphere study, four US researchers, Wen-Jui Han, Christopher Ruhm, Jane Waldfogel and Elizabeth Washbrook, analysed data collected from 10,000 mothers nine months after they had given birth.

7% were working within a month of the birth, 26% within two months, 41% within three months, and just under 60% were in employment six months after the birth.

Han et al said a ‘striking result’ was that women who were married, had more than a bachelor’s degree and were aged 30 or older, were generally less likely to be working two months after their babies’ births.  The authors attributed this to those women having greater resources available to them to sustain them for longer in the home [presumably assuming they wanted to return to work].

Not unexpectedly, they noted that single mothers may feel a greater urgency to return to mom-and-kidswork because they could not rely on a partner’s income for support while child-rearing.

On the other hand, women with low level educational qualifications who may want to return to work often do not do so because the sorts of jobs available do not provide sufficient income after childcare costs.

Other findings were that highly educated women returned to work relatively slowly, and that women aged less than 24 were significantly more likely to be working nine months after the birth than 25-29-year-old mothers, and particularly more likely than those aged 35 plus.

The authors cited this example from Canada in 2008, when that country offered six months’ paid maternity leave:  at that time, 60% of mothers were in the workforce within nine months of their babies’ births; when the paid leave  was later increased to one year, the percentage of mothers returning to work within nine months fell to 20%.

This suggests that, in general, mothers (and in some cases, fathers) would prefer to stay home longer with their children before returning to work, and would mostly do so if they were subsidised.

Of course, the studies above were with mothers returning to work within 12 months of childbirth. Some mothers (and fathers) choose to stay home longer with their children, so that the gap between their last employment and rejoining the workforce is extended, which brings its own anxieties, as well as the struggles cited above.

What do you think about the findings in those two studies? Is the situation similar in Australia? If you’re a parent who has struggled with these issues, how have you responded? Please feel free to reply in the ‘Comments’ section.

Until next time

Darryl Dymock

Confident4Work Project Director



Wanted: butchers, bakers but no candlestick makers?

Across Australia, there are not enough butchers to cater for the many people who want to get in for their chop.

Nor are there enough people to knead the bread for the people who need the bread – there’s a shortage of bakers.

But for some reason there’s little demand for candlestick makers.


The Australian Government has just published a list of occupations that employers are having the most difficulty in filling, and therefore potentially offer the best opportunity for finding a job.  All of them require skills and training and sometimes experience.

The professions

In the professions, there’s a national shortage of sonographers and audiologists, and also optometristoptometrists, although where you live determines your chances of getting a job staring into people’s eyes.

They’re also looking for tax accountants, and early-childhood teachers in long-day-care centres, and there’s a demand for midwives in regional areas.

You also have a good chance of employment if you’re a physiotherapist, but it seems those jobs are mostly in regional areas and you might need a specialisation.

Cadastral surveyors (which might sound like a swear word but refers to those people you see with yellow tripods measuring property boundaries) are also in short supply.

If working with animals is your thing, the community will welcome experienced veterinariansvet snake in outer- and south-western Sydney and in regional SA, WA and the NT.

It seems there’s a good supply nationally of agricultural specialists, but some of the skill needs are quite specific and the locations not always attractive, so vacancies remain.

Similarly, there are jobs for civil engineers, but usually for senior positions or in specialised roles. It may be that the downturn in mining is responsible for the large number of applicants for these sorts of jobs in WA.

In a world where age can be a barrier to employment, it’s encouraging to see that the ICT industry is looking for senior web developers, senior programmers and senior ICT security specialists. (Of course, in an industry with many young people, the term ‘senior’ may be relative. 🙂

The trades

In the trades, you’re in demand if you’re an automotive electrician, a motor mechanic or a sheet-metal worker.  Panel beaters and vehicle painters are also in short supply, which suggests you might have a long wait for repairs if you scrape your car.

Also, try not to lock yourself out – there’s a national shortage of locksmiths.tradespeopleThe construction trades in eastern Australia are also looking for skilled workers – brickies, painters, glaziers, plasterers, roof and floor tilers, and cabinet makers. Apparently there’s an oversupply in WA.

Multi-skilling has become the norm in many organisations in recent times, and now it seems that plumbers with those qualities are lacking in some states, along with gasfitters.

And those of you who think there seems to be a hairdresser on every corner might be surprised to learn there’s a national shortage of hairdressers. In case you’re tempted to take ahairdresser short cut (!) to employment, however, the Department of Employment warns that ‘employers generally consider those who hold fast-tracked hairdressing qualifications to be unsuitable’.

This is a reminder that you need to make sure that any training you do is going to be recognised by employers, and also that there are some dodgy operators out there who will make all sorts of promises while they take your money, alongside the many reputable ones.

You can contact me at Griffith University if you need advice about making the right choice.

Until next time

Darryl Dymock

C4W Project Director

Can you spare me 30 minutes?

InterviewOver the past two weeks I’ve been interviewing for the Confident4Work Project: senior managers,  student advisers, and some wonderful mothers who shared their stories and aspirations with me.

I am very thankful to all those people for their willingness to give me their time, and for their candour as we’ve talked. All I asked was 30 minutes and they were half hours well spent.

Eventually I’ll put all the interview information together, but for those not (yet) involved with the project, I thought I’d give you an indication of the sorts of questions I’ve been asking.

Among the questions I’ve been asking people who’ve been out of the workforce are:

  • Are you intending to go back to the sort of work you were doing before, or are you Interview waiting roomhoping to do something different?
  • Is there any sort of information or advice that would help you at this point or closer to the time to prepare to return to the workforce?
  • What are your main concerns in preparing to return to the workforce and in making the transition back to work?

I also talked to a person who had not only returned to work after a break from the workforce, but in her new role had helped to recruit a new person to the organisation, so was able to offer a perceptive view from both sides.

Senior people in management and human resources responded candidly and helpfully to such questions as:

  • People working in the officeWhat are the most significant changes in say the last 5-10 years in the sort of work your organisation does?
  • Given that all applicants are normally required to address the same selection criteria, how might an applicant for a position improve their chances of being selected for an interview?
  • What advice would you give to a person who had been out of the workforce for a time to prepare themselves in ways that might maximise their chances of being employed in this organisation/industry?

You may recall that one of the triggers for this research was the report of an Australian survey of 550 mothers hoping to return to work that found two-thirds of them believed their skills and qualifications were out of date.

So I have included in my research advisers in universities who have had long experience with mature-age students returning to study. Their responses have been very illuminating. Among the questions I asked them were:

  • What are the main issues mature-age students who have not undertaken study for some years or never been to university will have to deal with?
  • What sort of preparation would you recommend for such students before they begin their university program?
  • What advice would you give to a mature-age student coming back from a break, to maximise their chances of success at university?

Mature age students

Interviews are ongoing, and I  plan to also include advisers from vocational education institutions (registered training organisations) in this project.

I’ll be reporting some of my findings on this website, so please click on the link to follow it if you want to keep up to date.

Until next time

Darryl Dymock



US Article: ‘Does Being a Mom Help or Hurt Your Career?


How are workplaces changing?

According to a recent US report about the changing nature of the workplace, work is now:

  • more cognitively complex
  • more team-based and collaborative
  • more dependent on social skills
  • more dependent on technological competence workplace-workers
  • more time pressured
  • more mobile and less dependent on geography.

While these features will vary according to the type of workplace and kind of industry, the bottom line is that workers these days need to be prepared for a dynamic work environment.

Employers want people who can think on their feet and cope with problems as they arise.

Erin Hudson, manager of a busy suburban medical practice in Brisbane, told me that aspiring receptionists sometimes underestimated the demands of such an environment.

busy-receptionist‘There could be five phones ringing, several patients at the counter, two doctors standing behind the receptionists wanting something done. Not everyone can deal with the constant pressure,’ she said.

Erin nominated technology as the area of biggest change in the practice in recent years, not only in the programs they use, but also from outside agencies such as Medicare.

All the Monday-Friday receptionists in Erin’s workplace are permanent part-time; casuals are employed on weekends.

Australian Government statistics show that just over half receptionist employment is part-time, and around a quarter have year 12 qualifications. 95% are women.

Average weekly income is around $850 full-time, before tax.

Erin Hudson said that a vocational qualification is not an essential prerequisite for employment in the medical practice she manages, but might help in being selected for interview.

qualification-imageThe main vocational qualification in this field is the Certificate III in Business Administration (Medical).

Examples of course providers* for the Certificate III include: TAFE Queensland which for $2300 offers an online course that takes up to 12 months; and Wesley Institute of Training has a combined face-to-face and self-paced course over 6-12 months for $2442. Concessions apply.

The Department of Employment says that the receptionist workforce should grow slightly in coming years and employment prospects are high.

eye-clip-artMedical receptionist – at a glance:

  • Technology skills are a must
  • A vocational qualification is not essential, but may help you get an interview & potentially an edge in selection – but you need to weigh the $ cost of the course against the potential benefit.
  • The weekly/annual salary is modest
  • About half the workforce are employed part-time
  • There are good employment prospects – but also likely plenty of competition for jobs because a formal qualification is not essential for many of these positions, and part-time employment is appealing.

Do you have work experience in this field, or of training or applying for medical receptionist positions? If so, please share your experience through the ‘Comments’ button.

Erin Hudson also had a piece of advice for those chosen for interview for a medical receptionist job: Remember that you will be the front-of-office for the practice, and dress for the interview as you would for the job you are applying for.

Until next time …

Darryl Dymock

Director, Confident4Work Project

*Mention of a specific educational provider does not mean endorsement of that provider or a particular program.





Welcome to the Confident4Work Project


Confident4Work Project

mother-childAccording to a recent survey*, two-thirds of women returning to work after a break away from it (mostly to look after children) felt their current qualifications and skills were out of date.

The aim of this research-based non-commercial project is to help women and men seeking to return to the workforce after a time away from it to identify:

  • the sorts of knowledge and skills they need to be competitive in the contemporary jobs market, and
  • the sorts of information and support they need to successfully complete any education and training necessary to be competitive in the jobs market. 

In the Confident4Work project, you’ll hear from:

  • Mothers and others who’ve taken time out for various reasons – about their expectations and timing of their return to work, and whether they think they’ll need to upgrade their skills and knowledge.
  • People who’ve gone back to work after being out of the workforce for at least 12 months – about their experiences in getting back into the workforce and what advice they might have for others seeking to do the same.
  • Study skills advisers in vocational education and universities – about choosingtraining-course-trainer courses, getting the right support and staying focussed
  • Managers/employers/HR experts – about the changes they’ve seen in their industry that anyone returning to work has to be up to speed with; and about the sorts of new knowledge and skills needed to be competitive for a job.

On this site you’ll learn:

  • How the contemporary workplace is changing
  • Where the best opportunities are in the Australian jobs market
  • What skills and knowledge are most marketable
  • What to look for (and look out for) when choosing an education or training course or provider to upskill yourself
  • How to access the support needed for successful completion of education and training
  • What advice others who’ve gone back to work after a break have for those with similar plans
  • How to deal with the realities of life that you also need to consider on your way to re-employment.

Moving forward

moving-forward-arrowEquipped with this knowledge, you’ll be able to map your own individual learning and training pathway back to work with more confidence and plan your life forward.

There are no guarantees of course, and not everyone will get the job or the exact working conditions they want.

But at least you’ll know what to expect and what preparation you need to maximise your chances of getting back into the workforce.

Sign up

To keep in touch with the Confident4Work project, simply sign up for updates by clicking on the ‘Follow’ button on this website.

If you want to contribute to the research, just send me a message through the ‘Leave Comments’ button. Your message & details will remain private.

In my experience, you get to where you want to be through motivation, persistence, beingstudent_success realistic about your goals and abilities, and having the right support.

And we can support each other. That’s what the Confident4Work blog is about.

Stay in touch.

Darryl Dymock

Director, Confident4Work Project

*Get Qualified Australia survey, reported in Antill Magazine, 7 July, 2016