BDO’s Returners Programme: An Innovative Approach to Talent Management

Niamh O’Brien, Director, BDO Talent Management recently featured in the Finance Dublin to discuss An Innovative Approach to Talent Management in BDO.

Our working landscape is forever evolving, and as companies grapple with adapting to new employee demands, we are constantly discovering fresh ways to create a diverse workforce. For BDO, we see the shift in employee desire for flexibility and hybrid working as an exciting opportunity to align with our people’s personal preferences. But this new way of working also provides a gateway to a reasonably untapped talent pool of experienced, qualified professionals who have exited the workforce.  

Launching our Experienced Hires Returners Programme establishes a much-needed pathway to bring this talent back into employment, positively impacting diversity and inclusion within our Firm and expanding our recruitment initiatives.   

Statistically, females make up the most significant proportion in this cohort, often after taking a career break to have and care for children or to provide care for family members. However, with reduced pay, less skilled or entry-level roles, and no flexibility typically offered after a career break, returning to the workforce is not only less attractive, but also unfeasible.   

We want to change this narrative. So, we launched our new Programme to create attractive roles for these individuals who typically have extensive work experience and in-demand professional qualifications. We have listened to first-hand expertise to establish a framework that allows returners to confidently transition into the workforce and successfully reignite their careers.  

Our research unsurprisingly established that flexibility is the most considerable priority for Returners. This common need prevailed over all other demands throughout our surveys and interviews, setting a clear direction for our Programme.  

But we wanted to dig further to discover what else we can offer besides flexibility. We found that working in a role that provides a sense of purpose and being fairly rewarded financially for the work that is being done was also prevalent in our results. These responses have therefore formed the framework of our initiative.   


The Pilot Programme   

We recently hired several females who have taken a career break due to family commitments as part of our pilot programme. We found that recruiting professionals for Senior Positions in a part-time capacity aligned perfectly with ongoing family commitments but also established a position in our Firm that develops a clear career path, giving our Returners a new sense of purpose.


Finding the right role that could properly leverage my experience and provide me with new career opportunities but also provide flexibility around childcare needs was not easy. So, I started to utilise my network and spoke to former colleagues and friends, explaining what type of role I was looking for, and that is when I was put in touch with Niamh O’Brien.   

I was very excited about returning to work but apprehensive about the need to refresh my skills. I had only been out of the workplace for 2 years, but it had been 17 years since I worked in practice. However, BDO were very committed to providing me with the required training, support, mentoring and flexibility I needed to succeed, which has really helped my onboarding.

Annette O’Byrne, Senior Audit Manager BDO Dublin.   


We genuinely believe that taking a career break does not mean taking a step back in your career, and there are vast opportunities to create a proactive approach to offering roles that support this mantra.  

Companies have never had a better time to capitalise on this model.   

According to the latest CSO figures, unemployment in Ireland is currently 4.3%. Whilst this is positive for sustained employment growth, it poses a significant challenge for businesses looking to grow their workforce. Even with multiple large-scale tech layoffs and economic uncertainty, the ‘War on Talent’ has not yet been won.   

Companies that have embraced the flexible working changes that have emerged from the Covid-19 pandemic are in a solid position to follow our initiative, which is a highly plausible solution to attract and retain quality people in a competitive environment.   

Clear indicators from the latest CSO participation rates establish a marked difference in females choosing not to work compared to males in the same category. However, our initiative can, and does, appeal to more than one cohort.   

We have found that early retirees also want to return to the workforce and have parallel challenges outlined above. By welcoming the opportunity to create a flexible environment, there is an abundance of potential to offer a generational balance within your organisation, as well as a gender one.  


The key to success  

In general, we are seeing employee demands evolve. Still, for those who may have been out of the workforce for long periods, there is exasperated concern about their support network when they return to employment.   

Having strong mentoring and coaching programmes will be essential for that transition period. In addition, bespoke training, both for IT skills and a refresh of technical skills may also be needed. But most importantly recognition that mentoring may be required in some of the softer skills such as confidence and self-esteem is just as important.   

While we have only recently gone live with the BDO Experienced Hires Returner Programme, we already see positive impacts. We have made some excellent new hires into the business that may not have previously considered a role with BDO.   

For more information on the BDO Experienced Hires Returner Programme, please contact Niamh O’Brien on

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