On-Ramps Lead Back to Work

By Jennifer Schramm Sep 1, 2012
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September CoverIn the previous decade, there was much discussion about on-ramps and off-ramps—especially regarding highly educated women who had opted out of the workforce to raise families. The term "on-ramping" describes the process of re-entering the workforce after a career break. "Off-ramping" depicts the process of exiting the workforce for a temporary career break. Despite the recession and high rates of unemployment, many of the trends that encouraged business leaders to try to build effective on-ramps for returning professionals have actually intensified.

Even with high unemployment, skills shortages remain in many industries. Recruiters are struggling to fill many open positions, especially those that require the highest levels of education.

The need for educated employees is likely to increase. With many jobs in the United States lost to offshoring or automation during the past decade, the ones that remain are often complex, specialized or technical jobs. This underscores the need for a well-educated workforce.

However, rates of education among entrants to the labor market are not rising in lock step with growing demand. If skills shortages continue, more organizations will be forced to locate and attract talent from multiple sources, including the ranks of individuals who may not currently be employed.

Many recruiters will continue to focus on educated women who have taken career breaks as a significant source of potential talent. This is because all around the world women are continuing to improve their education rates in relation to men. Demographers predict that if current trends persist, by 2050 women will outrank men academically in most parts of the globe.

In Winning the War for Talent in Emerging Markets (Harvard Business Review Press, 2011), Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Ripa Rashid write that organizations can overcome a short supply of well-qualified skilled labor in emerging markets only if they tap this source of underutilized talent.

More broadly, a growing number of men also are putting careers on hold to care for families. Author and researcher Liza Mundy, in The Richer Sex (Simon & Schuster, 2012), posits that as more women overtake men academically, many females will become the primary breadwinners in their two-earner households. Mundy says this will lead to a growing number of families where fathers become the primary caregivers. If this prediction holds true, many more men will experience off-ramping and conversely will most likely seek to on-ramp back into the workplace at some point.

Regardless, employers will benefit from strategies that make on-ramping easier. Examples include:

  • Recruiting programs involving alumni groups that help former employees stay in touch and potentially move back into the company fold.
  • An effective development strategy that helps professionals who have been out of the labor market quickly get back into their work grooves.
  • A flexible work environment that enables all employees to effectively manage professional and personal responsibilities.

The author is manager of the Workplace Trends and Forecasting program at SHRM.

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