The number of women returning to work is on the increase and it has distinct benefits for the Cumbrian economy.

In May it was announced that the UK unemployment rate was at its lowest since 1975. With unprecedented investment coming into Cumbria over the next decade this could pose a distinct problem, notwithstanding the skills gap we need to contend with.

The increase in the number of people employed in the UK applies across the genders, but not since comparable records began in 1971 have we seen so many women aged from 16 to 64 now in work - 70.2% of the age group.

The increase in the employment rate for women is partly due to ongoing changes to the State Pension age, but also to an array of factors including the changing attitudes of employers towards extended time away from the work place and the increasing number of women wanting to return to the workforce after periods of voluntary unemployment or using the statistician's term – being economically inactive.

Figures out in May revealed 8.83 million people aged from 16 to 64 were economically inactive from January to March 2017, 26.5% of these were women, again the lowest since 1971.

Lucia Dickinson who is now the Marketing Manager for Carlisle Brass took voluntary unemployment for six months.

"I choose to take time out from work after a lot of things had happened in my life," she says. "I had completed my degree, just finished a number of complicated projects for my previous employer and I had relocated to Cumbria from the Midlands. So I decided to have some time for myself before I got back into employment and a different journey."

Many women (and men) find the prospect of returning to work daunting – but help is on hand from local organisations like Inspira, websites like Women Returners and The Return Hub, recruitment agencies like Robert Walters, and large multinational companies like Morgan Stanley, Balfour Beatty and Network Rail who run 'Returnships'.

Returnships were first introduced by Goldman Sachs in 2008, in the US and have since made their way over to the UK. They are a form of later-life work experience for people, mainly women, to help them return to work after breaks to care for families. Often considered a professional internship – it is a short-term position drawing on a person's existing skills and experience, and may be supplemented with relevant training courses. 

In Cumbria there are limited Returnships, so to plug the gap Inspira, the leading career management and personal development organisation in the county has focused help to get women who've had extended career breaks back into the workforce.

Mark Bowman, Chief Executive of Inspira said, "Some recruiters can view people who have had extended time out of the work place as a risk, but we know these people are in fact a great opportunity to bring in a different perspective to an organisation."

"Here at Inspira we have programmes which are intended to get the woman returner prepared and ready for the world of world. Our workshops give the returner the chance to build their confidence, gain skills and introduce women to prospective employers – making it easier for them to secure employment.

"On the July 14, which is Employability Day across the Country, Inspira will be raising awareness with our partners about how the employment support sector can help women returners and other groups move towards, into or progress within the labour market."

Lucia, one of Inspira's clients says, "The [Inspira] adviser helped me through the process of getting back into employment, I found the organisation very inspiring - they helped me to get this job."

Earlier this year a cross-party group of MPs urged the Government and employers to help more women who have had career breaks, get back into the workplace.

They said it would not only help bring a wealth of experience to employers, but boost the economy – research has also found that increasing the number of women in work by just five per cent could create £750m extra in tax revenue.

For Cumbria this focus could have a very real and positive impact on our economy – positioning ourselves strongly to embrace future investment and the post Brexit world.