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2017 Has Been Billed As A 'Tipping Point' For Flexible Working, So Why Is It So Hard To Find A Job Outside Of The 9-5?

25/01/2017 15:13 GMT | Updated 25/01/2017 15:13 GMT

I was 18 at the turn of the Millennium. It was a time of expectation. Record numbers went to university and the jobs market was buoyant. We were riding on the waves of the 90s 'boom years' and took it for granted that we'd get a degree and a good job, buy a house, have a family. Like many who came of age at that time, I'm watching that bubble burst before my eyes.

Now in my 30s, having sweated for many years, I find the career door slammed shut because I have a child and need part time or flexible work. I'm locked out of the skilled jobs market.

Millennial girls were empowered and ambitious. We grew up to believe we could have it all - family and a career - and it's a shock to discover that actually, we still can't.

I decided not to return to my PR job after having my daughter. I started to freelance sporadically, but when she reached two and a half and began going to nursery two days a week, I was excited at the idea of having time to focus on myself and my career once again.

I've thrown myself into expanding my freelance work and, ideally, getting back into a salaried role. It turns out this is not so easy.

I want to be around for my daughter and full time childcare fees are astronomical. Searches for part time work are depressingly unfruitful, and a couple of unsuccessful applications and interviews have taken a sledgehammer to my confidence.

I've lost sleep worrying when freelance work has dried up and commissions failed to pay. I've found myself in a position I have never been in before - utterly financially reliant on my husband and barely breaking even with the small, irregular amounts I could earn. It was a complete shift in identity for someone who has always earned my own way.

The complete dearth of part time, child-friendly opportunities is a large part of the problem. Roles in my industry that could fit around my family are few and far between and when they do come up there's huge competition.

Many professional women are lucky enough to be able to return flexibly to their posts after maternity leave. But what if you take a career break or your company can't offer the flexibility you need? What about flexible roles at the point of hire?

Research from flexibility experts Timewise highlights that 79 per cent of people searching for part time or flexible roles (including parents, carers and disabled people) feel the jobs market is broken for them. Timewise research has also shown that 1.9 million skilled people are blocked from achieving higher wages, or from working at all, because of a lack of flexible working opportunities.

A report by Lancaster University's Work Foundation published in February 2016 suggested we are approaching a 'tipping point' for flexible working, when working away from the office becomes more common than working solely from a desk, 9am-5pm. It predicts half of UK organisations adopting the practice by 2017. If this is the case, then why are so few roles advertised as flexible?

Figures from Timewise's annual Flexible Jobs Index 2016 show only 8.7 per cent of job vacancies - with salaries of £20,000 per year or more FTE (full time equivalent) - offer some degree of flexibility. This has increased from 6.2 per cent the previous year, but it's still not enough.

Parents that do want to return to full time work have a lot more job openings to choose from, although, of course, a whole different set of challenges.

Women in our 30s are in a tricky position. For those who dream of a family, time is running out. Leave it much longer, we're told, and it might not happen. But we don't want to sacrifice the career we've worked so hard for, nor should we.

I made the decision to have a family in the knowledge that it would probably impact on my career, but should we be resigning ourselves to this choice? Should I accept that taking time out for child rearing limits me professionally and take lower skilled jobs where there are more part time offerings?

By not opening up part time roles, employers are also missing out on a vast army of mums who, while they want to raise a family, have masses to offer.

The rise of the 'mumpreneur' is a response to being locked out of the jobs market. We have to make opportunities for ourselves that work around our children, because employers don't.

Our working culture has changed little in the past 30 years. In a world where the pace of technological and social change has increased rapidly, working practices have not kept up.

There needs to be a seismic shift in attitudes from employers. Companies need to offer more part time and flexible roles, to dads as well as mums. More mums could get back to work and more dads could be enjoying those precious early years with their children.

While this may present more of a logistical headache to companies, their workers, male and female, would undoubtedly be more productive. The benefits for businesses have been proven; increased productivity, improved employee wellbeing, talent attraction and retention, extended operating hours and reduction in accommodation costs.

Companies will need to change their mindset from 'bums on seats' to a focus on delivery. We need to revolutionise the system so that if you have children and can no longer fit into the 9-5 mould, there are options open to you - without letting your skills go to waste.