As part of our Every Person Counts campaign, we explore Ramboll’s Return to Work programme


“If we’re going to change diversity in the sector, my belief is that you have to be really deliberate about it. It doesn’t happen just by chance or organically,” says Philippa Spence, managing director of Ramboll.

“If you look back in history at how hard women – and also minority groups – have fought for greater access, for their rights, for balance and for equal access to opportunity, history really tells you that unless you take really deliberate action, it’s not going to happen.”

And that is what Ramboll has done with its return to work programme. The scheme is designed to integrate potential employees into the workforce after a career break of 12 months or more – something Spence says is critical not only to encourage a more diverse workforce but also to help address skills shortages.

Philippa Spence 2021

Philippa Spence

“As a mum, having gone on maternity leave and returning, some of the challenges I personally experienced made me realise that it was a great area to focus on,” she says. “If we could get that right and encourage people who have been locked out of the industry in one way or another back in, we could get some fantastic talent.” 

In 2021, the first year of the programme, seven women were recruited. While this first round of employees were all female, Spence makes clear this was not a requirement and the scheme was open to anyone who had taken time out of the sector.

She says recapturing talent that could otherwise be lost is integral if the sector is ever going to come close to meeting its dual challenges of a chronic skills crisis and a homogeneous workforce. 

>> Also read: Mentoring Circle: Building up women in the built environment
>> Also read: How construction is responding to the post-Brexit skills crisis

Spence says the programme does not involve looking for people for specific roles but rather identifying individuals who would be “great for the business” and then working out where they might slot in. 

She explains: “We’ve got about six or eight broad categories of work we do. So what we do is we receive CVs [for the programme] and then share them among the hiring managers and say: ‘Is this a fit? Could this be a fit?’

“We definitely don’t try and put anyone in a box – we try and be really open minded. What we actually say is: ‘What a great skill set of skills! Let’s put them here or there!’ and find a place. And what is really wonderful is that so far that has worked so well.”

I’d love to see others in the sector actually embrace the choice of taking deliberate action. If we don’t choose to do that, then we’re choosing the status quo – and the status quo isn’t good enough

She adds that the programme has been a great way to attract people who before their break were working in other industries – as it is designed to employ individuals based on their skill sets rather than on specific past experience. “There is a piece of work that we’ve done to help our hiring managers be able to understand when they receive a CV that doesn’t look exactly like the CV that they might be expecting, so that they can unpick it and unpack it and recognise the value that someone can bring to the organisation. That also comes through the interview process.”

What does Ramboll’s return to work programme include?

Ramboll’s new return to work programme is open to anyone with previous experience within engineering, design, project management or consultancy and who has taken a career break of 12 months or longer.

During the six-month programme, those participating will be part of a cohort of fellow returners and will benefit from additional training, one-to-one sessions with a specialist return to work coach, and guidance from an internal mentor.

The aim is for participants to transition to a permanent position at the end of the six-month contract wherever possible.

The programme is open to applications from those seeking to work full or part time. Ramboll has embeded flexible working within its culture, with all employees having flexible working written into their contract since before the pandemic.

The programme is run in partnership with Inclusivity, a human resource specialist focused on helping people return to work after career breaks. 

Inclusivity both supports candidates through the recruitment process and provides ongoing support for the duration of the programme.

Asked if there has been any pushback on the scheme from within the firm, Spence says there were different responses and it was an exercise in challenging people’s unconscious biases. “Different people are in a different place in terms of their readiness to accept that they need to change the way things have been done for decades,” she says. “By and large, I’ve been really pleasantly surprised by how willing people generally have been. That’s not everyone – and that’s just life and reality. But I feel really, really enthused; really optimistic.”

And this is the point she wants to see embedded across the sector more widely. Spence says: “I’d love to see others in the sector actually embrace the choice of taking deliberate action. If we don’t choose to do that, then we’re choosing the status quo – and the status quo isn’t good enough.”

Speaking to two women who have returned to work through the programme (see below) shows that the opportunity it presents is invaluable in helping tackle the challenges of resuming a career after an extended break. This is a must if construction firms want to become truly equitable employers.

Naz Jones: Return to work case study #1

Naz Jones

“If it wasn’t for this scheme, it would have taken me five to six years to be in the position that I am today,” says Naz Jones, a project manager at Ramboll. “I am completely grateful to Ramboll for seeing not just my last role but what I have achieved beyond that.”

Jones, who took a foray into being an x-ray engineer on her path back to construction, says she feels this is key to the programme – a willingness to recognise that a person’s potential skill set which makes them a good fit for a role is more than just their last position.

“Approaching companies, just because of what I was doing as my previous role I was going to have to completely start from the bottom again, where Ramboll obviously noticed that I had skills that I could use within this role,” she says.

She says the whole cohort of returners felt there was a really fantastic level of support and communication – something she feels will only enhance the programme for the next intake. “We’ve been asked for feedback for the next team that is going to come in, so there’s been that constant feedback loop,” she says.

“There’s all these different elements that’s made it such a success, in my view, but they are still taking the time to ask how it can be improved. And that seems seems to be happening quite naturally behind the scenes.” 


Zhi McPherson: Return to work case study #2

Zhi McPherson Ramboll

“Prior to joining Ramboll, I’d taken a career break of almost five years. And then I was approached through LinkedIn by the founder of Inclusivity and she just broached that this was a way for me to return to my career in a supportive way, in a flexible way,” says McPherson. “And for me, that was really appealing.”

McPherson is a senior structural engineer at Ramboll, working on sustainability projects – something she says would not have been possible if not for the return to work scheme.“The understanding that this scheme is specifically in place for returners such as yourself just makes makes you feel supported and validated and makes the whole process less daunting,” she says.

McPherson says the programme has also enabled her to feel comfortable at work and that there is no need to constantly apologise or explain her previous absence from the workforce. “The head of the Cambridge office, he just introduced me as returning through the scheme. So I instantly felt that everyone was aware and I wasn’t having to explain myself,” she says.

“And from that there’s just a really positive work culture. Everyone makes time to get to know you as colleagues, and then it makes something that you feel you’re able to talk about. Everyone along the route is very supportive.”


Every Person Counts


Our Every Person Counts coverage aims to provide a place where debates about skills, employment and workplace culture can play out and solutions can be shared.

We know the construction industry has no shortage of suggestions for tackling the skills crisis – from reforming apprenticeships, to offering more flexibility, to increasing diversity, to providing better pathways from education to the workplace. We tackle all  these themes and more in our ongoing coverage. 

If you have an employment initiative you want to tell us about email us at with the subject line ‘Every Person Counts’. You can also contact us via Twitter @BuildingNews and LinkedIn @BuildingMagazine; please use the hashtag #everypersoncounts. We look forward to hearing your employment stories.