The Open University is calling for people working in the IT sector to volunteer their time to provide mentoring to women on its returners to work course.

The university runs an online, 10-week course for women who have taken time out of their technology, science or engineering careers, and now want to return to work in the sector.

Established in 2005, the course has been running since a government report published in 2003 found that two-thirds of women who have these highly technical qualifications, after a career break, go back into lower paid jobs than before, or go to work in other sectors, causing a ‘brain drain’.

“The hi-tech sector is fast moving and if you take time out you can get quite far behind. You lose confidence, you lose contacts and you forget how to do your CVs and things,” said Clem Herman, senior lecturer in the department of communications and systems at The Open University.

The course helps women to get ready to go back into work by looking at their experience so far, and helping to identify what transferable skills they may have developed during their time out of work. They also get advice on how to update and optimise their CVs, how to perform in interviews and how to negotiate terms.

Women then look at what is going on in their sector, which the university helps with by inviting visiting experts to talk about the current trends in the industry in online forums – and this is one of the areas where men and women working in the industry can help.

Microsoft, for example, also supports the course by encouraging employees to partner with people on the course, helping them get up-to-date in the industry and giving them advice and support during the course.

“Employers could also offer work experience, or internships,” said Herman. “Even if it’s not paid, it’s helpful to get hands-on experience, and to have a bit of current experience.”

Herman said that since the course started, around 1,000 women have gone through the course, with at least half having gone into some kind of employment and others having opted for further training.

She did, however, admit that stereotypical views among employers about people who have taken career breaks, and some types of jobs can make still make it difficult for women to return to the careers they once had.

“The working conditions in some of the sectors make it difficult to work if you have got children, for example, working long hours and dropping everything to see a client. This does put constraints on what they can do," said Herman.

For more information on the course, and how to get involved, people should contact the university here.