Insight

When a career break can lead to your big break

25 September 2017

Caroline Nesi is recharging her career as one of this year’s cohort on Skanska’s 12-week return-to-work programme aimed at those who have had a break in their careers. She speaks to Denise Chevin.

Going back to work after a career break can be daunting and unnerving, as anyone who has done so will testify. Caroline Nesi, one of a cohort of women on Skanska’s returners programme, has a simple bit of advice to help get through the wobbles of self-doubt. 

“The one thing you have to remember is how you were before. Remember what you were capable of facing and achieving,” she says. “Don’t let yourself feel you’re not able. It takes a little time to get there, but set your mind to it and you will.”

Nesi is a project manager on the enabling works for HS2, where Skanska is in one of three joint ventures awarded a share of the £900m job in November 2016.

“The one thing you have to remember is how you were before. Remember what you were capable of facing and achieving. Don’t let yourself feel you’re not able. It takes a little time to get there, but set your mind to it and you will.”

Caroline Nesi, Skanska

It’s her first foray into rail work, having spent most of her career since graduating 15 years ago working in engineering and project management to do with oil and gas field exploitation in her native Brazil, with a spell in the UK between 2006 and 2012.

She decided to take a career break in 2015 when her daughter was three, when the project she was working on came to an end. A move back to the UK with her husband extended the break to nearly two years while she settled her daughter into the new environment.

She saw Skanska’s returners programme when she started looking for work at the start of 2017. “I liked Skanska’s philosophy of being sustainable, and I liked the idea of a short programme to enable me to get a taster before committing to the job full time,” she says.

The 12-week programme runs from April and is open to men and women who have taken a career break, though 80% are women. The idea is that Skanska attracts knowledgeable, skilled people and in return they get a gentler, well-supported reintroduction to the workplace.

In 2016, its first year, there were seven placements across the group. This year there were nine, with a permanent job at the end for those that want it. Nesi was interviewed and placed in the HS2 team. She was promoted from senior engineer very quickly to project manager, achieving one of her goals.

"During the 12-week programme the group were given support and attended workshops where they were able to discuss how they felt about being back at work and get advice.”

Nesi says she found the work stimulating and her colleagues helpful and supportive. She now works from 7.30am to 4.30pm to pick up her daughter from a childminder, and spends two and a half hours a day commuting.

She says the most challenging aspect to start with was feeling physically exhausted – “a lack of practice”. As well as the advice to believe in yourself, another tip is to ask for help if you need it. “I took over from someone who was looking after two of the enabling packages, but as the project progressed it became too much for one person – and the packages were split with someone else. Don’t be afraid to say if you need a bit more resource,” she says.

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