Returning to work

ScreenSkills can support you in returning to work after a break in your career.

Irshad Ashraf holding a clapper board
Image: Irshad Ashraf, who developed his career after paternity leave

There are many reasons why people need to take a break in their career. Whether it's to take leave as a parent, be a carer for a family member or for mental health reasons, there can be a strong need to pull back.

If you haven't worked in screen for a while, it can seem an overwhelming task to get back in - but that doesn't mean it can't be done. Here are some people who have grown in their careers after taking a break to look after children:

  • Single-parent Emine Yalchin temporarily shelved her directing ambitions to allow her to raise her son. She has since worked as director on the children's programme Yakka Dee! Read Emine's story.  
  • Mancunian Irshad Ashraf is on the way to directing high-end TV dramas after taking paternity leave. Until that point, his experience had been in documentary-making. Read Irshad's story.

Top tips for returning to work after a career break

  • Audit your skills: A period away from work doesn’t erase your skills. Assess that you are already good at and where you have skills gaps. Practise being able to present your skills clearly and with confidence.
  • Update your skills: The screen industries are constantly evolving fields where technology, practice, and circumstances change rapidly in comparison to other industries. Use ScreenSkills Training & opportunities to get the training you need to update your skills. If you can't afford the training you need, you can apply for a bursary.
  • Research job-sharing: Try finding a job-sharing partner with whom to split a role. There are organisations such as Share My Telly Job and Raising Films that help people find someone with whom to share a job. Sometimes a production company will help find a job share, but it increases your chances of sealing a deal if you have a partner in mind.
  • Offer a cost-saving plan: Be clear about how a flexible working arrangement can benefit a hirer (see King Banana's story below). It might be, for example, that a role can be done in three days a week, rather than five, but the production company is so used to offering full-time roles, it hasn't considered this as an option. This approach will be unique to every person, company and circumstance and requires thoughtful research. Think it through and be ready to persuade.
  • Use your network: Reconnect with your contacts. Check out the Facebook groups in our job boards that can help you find new ones.
  • Find a mentor: Explore ScreenSkills' mentoring programmes to find a mentor who can be there to encourage you in this challenging stage of your career.

Flexible working: a production company's story

King Banana casting director Sarah Nicholls works on a shoot with her son Colby. King Banana defies the pervasive notion that production, by its very nature, demands full-on, full-time crew. 

Producer and director Lotte Elwell, who founded King Banana with Katie Simmons, writer of Go Jetters,  argues that the indie actually benefits from offering flexible working, job shares and part-time roles to its staff. Lotte, who is based in London, realised what was possible when she took a directing job in Scotland shortly after having a baby. She took an au pair up to Scotland with her and breastfed her newborn during breaks in the filming. 

 “All of our staff work flexibly," she says. "We have an animation director who has a baby, and our arrangements mean he can work from home four days a week. Some of the crew job share, splitting the week. Others shift their days around week to week. As long as the work is done everything can function well.”

Lotte says that good record-keeping, trust and communication are the essential ingredients to making flexible working possible. "You have to clear communication and good systems set up," she says, "but these things are best practice anyway. What we gain is good people. There are plenty of talented people who have a family. These gifted people might have thought they couldn’t come back, but when offered the opportunity they then commit themselves to the role and earn that trust. The other advantage is that production companies don’t solely rely on one person for a role, and that they can hand over the tasks in case of sickness or unexpected situations."

ScreenSkills schemes

ScreenSkills offers several schemes to help returners. One of those is the High-end TV Skills Fund Return to Work programme. The programme has been funded four times over the last five years, the most recent for people working in Post and VFX across the UK. In 2019 the programme found retraining, mentoring and placements for 11 returners. To find our current programmes, search Training and opportunities.