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Gender equality and diversity: reskilling, upskilling and returning workers to the hospitality workforce post-Covid

Gina Oglesby, Back to Work Connect interview


Since the beginning of the pandemic, many studies have pointed out the disproportionate impacts of Covid-19 on the female workforce (OECD a, 2020, European Parliament 2020, UN Women 2020). Arguably the pandemic exacerbated structural inequalities that already existed (UN 2020, Wenham, Smith and Morgan 2020). Women faced differential economic risks, having been overrepresented in hardest-hit sectors of the economy, facing several barriers in business, being more vulnerable to the economic impacts of the crisis, and having to take care of family responsibilities, forcing them to leave their jobs and studies (OECD a, 2021). Furthermore, according to the World Forum Economic Report (2020), since the beginning of the pandemic, displaced workers have been on average more likely to be female, younger and earning a lower wage (p. 17). In the tourism and hospitality industry, the effects of the Covid-19 crisis on women were even more visible as they are more likely to work in this hard-hit sector supplying 60% of the workforce in accommodation, 53% in food and beverage and 47% in air transport around the globe (OECD b, 2021, p 7). Covid-19 impacted jobs and hours of work – particularly for this group (Renaud et al., 2020). Additionally, the loss of jobs in the sector, already highly gendered, the social struggle women have facing as caregivers during the pandemic and the barriers found in applying – for jobs led to more inequalities in the job market.

To overcome these challenges, new initiatives must be put in place.  For example, mainstreaming policies to promote gender equality, bringing women returners back to the workforce, developing gender equality skills in tourism and hospitality, and reskilling and upskilling – the female workforce.

Reskilling, upskilling and equality in tourism and hospitality is thus increasingly important post- Covid. This is particularly pertinent for returning workers, including the female workforce.  In this blog, key NTG partner, TU Dublin explores gender equality, diversity, upskilling and returning workers with Gina Oglesby of Back to Work Connect.


Returning the workforce in Ireland

Back to Work Connect (BTWC), a hub designed to reskill, upskill and provide employment opportunities to people who are returning to the workforce in Ireland, has been one of – the initiatives that recognise the importance of providing support for women, helping returners to get back to the workforce and focusing on programmes – targeted to bring more gender and age diversity in the labour force.

Gina Oglesby, Back to Work Connect founder and CEO, talked to us about – the importance of skills and how to retrain and upskill a diverse return workforce in Ireland, – specifically targeting stay-at-home parents, the unemployed, and older people.  She started by telling us a little bit about the initiative and how it became an important hub designed to reskill, upskill and provide employment opportunities to returners to work in Ireland:

“The idea of setting up a business and being able to support women to get back to the workforce was always a cornerstone of what I wanted to do. Many women leave the workforce because they want to care for their children and that’s absolutely fine but many are forced to leave due to high childcare costs. The reality is Ireland is one of the most expensive countries in Europe for childcare. And as long as women remain the primary caregivers for their families and childcare cost remain high it is inevitable that we will continue to see women leaving or being forced out of the workforce while their children are young”.

 “Once out of the workforce, the journey back to employment can be difficult, and the longer the absence the bigger the challenge. According to CSO Ireland had over 450,000 stay at home parents, 98% of whom are women. Once out of the workforce and no longer in receipt of a social welfare payment, stay at home parents, begin to lose their confidence, skills and perceived relevance in the workforce”. Covid-19 has highlighted the unequal divide of family caring responsibilities. The pandemic has caused more women to reduce their hours or leave the workforce all together compared to men.”

Gina explained that they identified four obstacles that people, including women, find in returning to work after a period out of the job market. The obstacles are:

  1. Career gaps and time spent away from work
  2. Outdated skills
  3. Loss of confidence
  4. Lack of relevant opportunities

She highlighted :

“Identifying and understanding the four obstacles returners face, and building a platform that understands that each obstacle needs to be addressed for a successful return to work.” 

“BTWC set out to solve the problem of skills shortages for employers and the disconnect between candidates looking to resume employment following a career break and the actual opportunities available to them.  Following a year and a half of research and learning the BTWC platform was launched in March 2020. Two weeks later the pandemic hit, and the economy effectively shut down”. 

“The period since the launch of BTWC has seen a profound change globally in the world of work and how it functions. The combination of the acute talent shortage globally and the accelerated pace of change in terms of flexibility present a ’perfect storm’ for both employers and employees.”

Gina highlighted some of the BTWC initiatives:

Our platform is designed to identify areas of skills shortages through our technology and help employers plan for future recruitment needs. Connecting with employers who display our Returner Open badge allows them to openly promote their willingness to hire from this cohort. Our unique jobs board & course directory links users with market leaders in education and innovative employers and our support through Skills 4 Success enables Returners to regain their confidence and competence and put their best foot forward when applying for a new job.” 

She also emphasised that:

“BTWC has created a community that clearly demonstrates their understanding of the obstacles and challenges facing returners. Being a part of a community that understands and supports us helps us develop a stronger sense of purpose and personal control over our lives.”


Projects and needs that impact the gendered and aging workforce

We asked Gina about BTWC projects designed to target specific needs- in the workforce, including Skills 4 Success, targeting stay-at-home parents, a Returner Open Employer System and the Next Step Return Ship Programme, providing opportunities for increasing diversity.  Gina explained how these projects impact the gendered and ageing workforce:

  • Skills 4 Success is a career guidance and support project. Focusing on helping returners who have been out of the workforce for a number of years and who are actively seeking to return to education and work. The program consists of workshops and one-on-one career coaching, providing support in confidence building, CV preparation, interview skills, and career guidance. These skills are fundamental to enabling individuals who have been out of the workforce for a number of years to understand their potential. Skills 4 Success will connect our clients to the support they need to enable them to embrace the opportunities available, and to guide them along the path to education or employment.


  • Back To Work Connect – has developed a Returner Open Employer system, where employers who are open to age and gender diversity in the workplace can stand out from the crowd. Research shows that the most diverse companies are 21% more likely to see improved profitability. The benefits of having an age and gender diverse workforce are it:


  • Increases Engagement and Performance
  • Improves an Organisations Brand & Identity
  • Helps Reduce Employee Turnover
  • Expands Your Talent Pool
  • Encourages Innovation and Creativity
  • Strengthens Decision-Making and Problem-Solving
  • Improves Your Understanding of Customer Needs


  • Next Step-Returnship Programme goal is to create a returnship program so people would come to work at BTWC for us from 6 to 9 months, and they would bridge that skills gap. They would work in the many departments we have here for 6 months, and then we would place them in in an organisation once we know they have bridged their gap”.


Additionally, “we also have a program which is about financial wellbeing, because ultimately financial independence”

We asked Gina about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the female workforce in Ireland.  She emphasised that:

“Ultimately, we all know that Covid-19 had the biggest effect on women, and even those who did remain in the workforce, for the majority childcare remained absolutely their responsibility, and anybody who had younger children really struggled. Many women left the workforce during Covid-19 because they were in sectors that were heavily affected by lockdowns such as Retail and Hospitality, which often provide low-paid roles. 

“Covid-19 has clearly shown us the vulnerability of single-income families. When the only income earner loses their job the whole family suffers. Major shocks to our economy can have a devastating effect on individuals and their families from a mental health and financial wellbeing point of view.” 

The impact of skills training and lifelong learning

She highlighted the importance of skills training to overcome the challenges of the pandemic:

“Updating skills is a lifelong learning process, I think everybody should do a course at least once a year. I think lifelong learning is the ultimate goal. People don’t need to do a four-year degree, we know from statistics, returners who have done some level of retraining are much better able to cope with the transition into employment. If you come back, and you have done a course, and another course, you are more prepared to go back to work. If you have done any type of program, your success rate in employment is much higher”.

Technology and digital skills are very important:

“The idea is that technology changes so quickly, that if you aren’t continuously updating and practicing, you lose so much… skill. I am a big believer that stepping back into the workforce has to be preceded by a step back to education”.

Gina also highlighted the benefits of return workers for job providers:

“Returners tend to bring to the table a completely different set of skills because they are mature and they have experience in the workforce, they have proven they are able to adapt, they are able to update their skills and they are willing to learn. Those skills are more valuable than anything else, they are more valuable to somebody who has been in a job for 35 years and never changed. If you are looking at two candidates, one who has never left -their employment for 30 years, and somebody who has left, reskilled and then came back, I would choose the returner, because they have shown ambition and that they were able to grow”.

Gina also shared her thoughts on the hospitality industry specifically:

“I think ultimately the biggest problem in hospitality is that the wages are so low, and it was the hardest hit by Covid-19, so people would be reluctant to get back into an industry that is still under restrictions for the large part. I think in other countries …the hospitality industry is a career, but that’s not the reality in Ireland, it is really low paid, and until that changes we will only have young people in it, you are not going to have people who stay long.

In conclusion, Gina highlighted the challenges women face in returning to the workforce and why diversity is needed:

“How are you going to change anything if everybody looks alike, thinks alike, dresses alike? The statistics show that those who have a diverse workforce are 21% more profitable. I look at Boards all the time and, even in sports clubs, 95% are men, women aren’t included in the conversation, we just need to be. We can’t have a society that’s 50/50, and all the decisions are being made by only one side. It doesn’t work in any society. When I say women I mean all women, migrant women, traveller women, just women in general need to be represented much more when it comes to all the decision making. Women are absolutely valued and women across the board need to be much more represented in all aspects in politics, at work, on the Boards of all these companies”.

This blog has highlighted reskilling opportunities for the gendered and diverse workforce. The discussion highlighted the impacts of Covid-19 for women, and the strategies in Ireland for bringing return workers back to the workforce, across all workplaces and sectors, including the hospitality industry.  There are a number of barriers and challenges for people returning to work and initiatives such as those that the BTWC hub offer aims to address these issues, by reskilling, upskilling, and providing employment opportunities.  TU Dublin and the NTG Alliance thank Gina Oglesby for her thoughts, insights, and examples of developing inclusive strategies for the labour market.  If you would like to learn more about gender equality, please see the NTG Tourism Sector Skills Toolkit: Developing Curriculum – NTG (nexttourismgeneration.eu).  Here you will find sample sessions and learning resources regarding gender equality skills.


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