When shared parental leave was first suggested, it is fair to say that many employers were left confused and slightly bewildered - as the model was extremely complex and difficult for employers (and indeed parents) to understand. Communicating such a model to employers was proving to be quite the challenge.
However, since the first consultation from government constructive discussions between a variety of stakeholders have been undertaken. As a result, we now have a model of shared parental leave which better reflects the delicate balance between the required flexibility of parents and the certainty and simplicity necessary for employers who will want to continue to support parents on their return to work.
Now the right model is in place, the next big challenge is making it work.
The government has estimated that the take up of shared parental leave will be low, and we have seen already this with additional paternity leave. It seems that only through a cultural shift in society will we begin to see any significant increases in take up of shared parental leave and this will require joint action. Employers themselves will have a role to play to demonstrate their future commitment to making shared parental leave work, and we look forward to showcasing such exemplar companies.
Employers will be able to benefit from guidance from organisations such as Acas. EEF inputted into the guidance alongside other business groups and parents group to ensure that all the questions that may come up in the process can be answered. There will undoubtedly be challenges that lie ahead - and access to detailed and relevant information will play a key role.
Open discussions between parents-to-be and their employers will be crucial to achieving this shift. Manufacturers will need to plan ahead to cover periods of leave, and return to work, whether this is in single blocks or an agreed pattern. At a time when order books are filling up and manufacturers are struggling to find skilled workers, employers and parents together will need to be well-prepared to ensure they have a stake in having the skills in place to meet the demands of their business.
Challenges aside, we must also look at the potential business benefits of shared parental leave.
One of the major opportunities for shared parental leave of course will be some mums returning to the workplace sooner, enabling manufacturers to retain sought after female talent for longer. It is no secret that manufacturing struggles to attract women into the industry - it is for that very reason that so many manufacturing employers currently offer enhanced pay when mums go on maternity leave and we anticipate that they will continue to do so.
Shared parental leave will allow those mums that want to return to the workplace sooner to do so, bringing their skills and expertise back with them. Implemented in the right way, with support for businesses and parents alike, shared parental leave could prove to be a useful tool to shifting the gender imbalance in industries such as manufacturing.