Advice for Parents Looking to Return to Work and School

Sometimes parents have to leave the workforce when they have kids. Looking to get back to work? Here's some advice if your plans involve college.

Nearly one in five parents—mostly women—leave the workforce when their children are born, according to the Pew Research Center. Stay-at-home parents solve child care challenges and improve educational outcomes for kids, but what happens when they want to return to the workforce? Unfortunately, many stay-at-home parents find the workforce less welcoming than when they left. Not only do many parents stay out of the workforce longer than expected, but barriers hold them back when they decide to return.

Many employers are biased against stay-at-home parents—they’re viewed as less capable, less reliable, and less committed than their peers who have been continuously employed. This makes employers hesitant to hire and promote re-entering parents. Employers may fear parents will prioritize family over work, but in reality, research suggests mothers are more productive than women without children. So how can parents convince employers they're an asset to the team?

Grow your network

Networking is key to staying current as a stay-at-home parent. When parents find job opportunities through connections familiar with their work, they can more easily overcome the bias that stops stay-at-home parents from re-entering the workforce. Getting hired through your network is also much more effective than sending résumés into the void of online job boards, which are often overflowed with first-time job seekers.

Related: 4 Easy Networking Strategies for Online Students

Go back to school

Stay-at-home parents may be just as capable as their employed peers, but skills are bound to lapse over years out of the workforce. As a result, many re-enter the workforce at a lower level and pay than when they left. In fact, just two to three years at home results in a 30% pay cut for mothers. Going back to school is the best way to convince employers you have the skills and knowledge for the job. In addition to undergraduate and graduate degrees, job seekers can refresh their résumé with certificates and Continuing Education Units. The availability of online schooling and financial aid has made higher education increasingly accessible to parents, whether you're brushing up on old skills or pivoting to a new career. Here are some popular career paths for parents returning to work:

  • Health care: Health care will be one of the most essential jobs after the pandemic. From nursing to health care administration, the best health care careers start with a bachelor's degree.
  • Teaching: Teaching is another in-demand career. The requirements to become a teacher vary by state, but most require a bachelor's degree, background check, and an entrance exam before licensure.
  • Real estate: Becoming a real estate agent doesn't require a college degree, but you’ll need to enroll in training and pass a licensing exam before you become a practicing agent.
  • Marketing and communications: Public relations specialists, social media managers, and market research analysts are just a few professionals who get their start with a Marketing or Communications degree.
  • Web development: Web development remains one of the most in-demand tech careers. While coding camps teach the basics, formal education provides the foundational knowledge that web developers need.

Not sure what career path you should choose? Search tools like CollegeXpress can help you explore majors, colleges, and scholarship opportunities to discover the right fit for you.

Look for workplace flexibility

Even when stay-at-home parents land a job offer, there's no guarantee it’ll work with their schedule. The nature of school and child care requires working parents to maintain flexibility. Unfortunately, employers don't always see it the same way. Rather than fighting for flexibility with a reluctant employer, parents should look for jobs that have flexibility built in. This is getting easier with the rise of remote jobs, allowing parents to work from home. Other possibilities include part-time work and choosing employers and career paths that embrace flexibility.

Related: Careers for People Who Want to Work From Home

Re-entering the workforce poses a lot of obstacles for stay-at-home parents, but it's also full of opportunity. Instead of letting barriers hold you back, earn a degree that’ll take your career to new heights. With a flexible profession and the right credentials under your belt, you can find success at home and in your career. 

Ready to get back to (class)work? Check out our article on How to Succeed in College as an Adult Student.

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