For many working parents, school holidays are a source of stress. After all, it’s about 12 weeks of the year. Twelve weeks that you need to find ways for your children to be cared for during work hours.
Most parents try to sync up their four weeks of annual leave with at least a few of these school holidays. But even if two parents had no overlap, there are still four long, school-free weeks where kids need to be split between babysitters, grandparents daycares and camps.
So, one company looked at this problem facing its parent employees and came up with a solution: give them 12 weeks of annual leave.
International engineering company AECOM is offering 20 roles to Australian and New Zealand mums – and dads – who are interested in working full-time during the school year, but having each school holiday period off. Up to 10 current employees can also take this offer up.
Natalie Goldman is the CEO of FlexCareers, the job service helping AECOM advertise for and implement these new term-time positions. Goldman says, to her knowledge, this is an Australian first - outside of teaching - and says the idea is aimed at providing a greater degree of flexibility for parents.
"This is a recognition of the reality of most working parents of the struggle they have a quarter of every year," she tells Mamamia. "Having the ability to work full-time during the school term, and then being able to be present and available to them during school holidays – which is often the hardest time to juggle – is genius."
An example of how it will work is that an engineer currently working full-time and earning $85,000 would still work 40 hours per week during term time, but take eight extra weeks off. This means their position is around 83 per cent of a full-time load, and so they take home $70,550, paid pro-rata.
Goldman says the idea, which is now being implemented as a 12-month trial program, came about when AECOM looked at the engineering industry's poor track record retaining female staff.
As most of us know, girls' engagement with STEM is poor. In fact, just six per cent of female high school students study the physics and maths subjects they need to get into engineering at university.
Of those that graduate university with an engineering degree, only half will stay within the industry, according to Engineers Australia. Less than one in eight engineers working in Australia are women.
So where are these qualified female engineers? Well, many of them are on career breaks.
"What AECOM came up with was a solution for how to attract this talent pool back into the workforce," Goldman says.
"One the key issues that particularly women who are primary caregivers struggle with, is their inability to either return to the workforce... or advance their career.
"This allows them to be back in the workforce in a role that will allow them to advance in their career."
Ashley Lang, who works as AECOM's director of oil and gas, is a Melbourne mum of two school-aged children and knows what a struggle it can be to find care for children during school holidays.
"Since going back to work full-time in 2011, I've found school holidays a challenge," she says. "I've certainly benefited from some flexibility at AECOM and have drawn heavily on a broader family support network."
Lang said that if she hadn't been offered some flexibility - changing her work hours and doing some work from home - she might have left the industry.
"I have a lot of female friends who are engineers and scientists who have opted to leave the industry because balancing work with family has just been too difficult and I think that's a real shame.
"We are facing a skills shortage and we need to think about how we can attract and retain female engineers.
"I think we as industry leaders need to be providing an example of what a different workplace can look like."
While AECOM's term-time roles could be just the opportunity mechanical, electrical, civil, chemical, geotech engineers and environmental planners and scientists have been waiting for - it's difficult for the rest of us to get excited. The closest many people can come is "purchasing" extra leave days - and even this isn't available to most workers.
However, Goldman says this kind of flexibility is on the rise in workplaces around the country as more and more employers see the value in offering employees flexible arrangements.
"In the last 24 hours since we announced this... almost every single client I've had have wanted to talk to me about it because it's just so groundbreakingly innovative and people want to be part of it," she says.
"AECOM came at this to try to solve a problem - to attract female engineers, but they expanded and realised this was something that could be done across the board.
"I would love more companies ask 'what kind of solutions can we come up with to the problems' we're having?'"
Goldman says workplaces can start just by talking to their employees about their needs.
"It's about thinking about how it can be a two-way conversation rather than an employer saying it's this way or the highway."
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