Five years after leaving her job to raise her three daughters, Albertina Tejeda was ready to get back to work. She always had a clear plan in mind: return to her career as a project manager when her youngest child enrolled in school.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
While juggling family life and searching for job opportunities, Tejeda encountered another challenge standing in the way of her return to work. Even with a degree in industrial engineering and more than a decade of experience in project management and business analysis, Tejeda faced stigma from employers for the gap in her professional resume.
"I can't even count how many interviews I went through," she said.
"It was really challenging. I started applying for jobs below my experience, but even then, it was always the same thing – something related to that gap always came up."
After signing up for a newsletter aimed at people looking to restart their careers, Tejeda saw a posting for a new program through TD that would help provide her with an opportunity to brush up her skills and restart her career in technology, at the Bank.
Growing the representation of women in technology
The pilot program, which launched in Canada earlier this year, specifically targets people ready to return to the workforce after taking time off work for reasons including childcare, family leave, or unemployment.
"We're tapping into a previously under-tapped group of people who are looking to launch careers in Technology," said Jennifer Weber, Vice President, Business Shared Services Technology at TD.
"It's not like on-campus recruiting or working with a recruiter who scours LinkedIn. There isn’t really this captive audience of returners that exists."
The pilot program while open to all applicants, had a focus on growing the representation of women in TD's technology workforce. Weber conceived the idea for the program during the pandemic, when the Canadian women's labour force participation rate dropped significantly due to closures in the services sector, where women are overrepresented, according to a 2021 analysis study by Statistics Canada.
"It's really difficult to figure out where to even start when you've been outside the working environment and not networking," said Weber.
"With the idea of returning 'back to normal' post-pandemic, it occurred to me that we should do something to help support women who have taken a career break – maybe to start a family, but also perhaps because of the pandemic – and help draw them back into the workforce by supporting, training or re-training them for technology roles at TD."
Implementing Agile principles and methodologies
The first cohort of returners is being trained to work as "Scrum Masters," a role where the individual provides support to teams across the Bank by implementing Agile principles and methodologies.
TD is one of a number of financial institutions adopting new strategies to respond to customer demand, including Agile principles and methodologies. At TD, Agile methodologies – an iterative approach to project management often used in software development – are supporting a new speed-to-market that helps the Bank keep up with the quickly evolving needs of its customers.
Recruitment and training for the returners program was completed by FDM Group, a global market leader in the "Recruit, Train and Deploy" industry. Participants are employees of FDM and contracted to work at TD, with the goal to create a pathway to full-time employment with TD at the end of two years. To learn more about the program, click here.
After applying and being accepted to the program, Tejeda is among the first cohort of 10 people – six women and four men – who recently finished training and are now working as Scrum Masters within the Bank.
"I don’t know if I would have a job right now if I had continued just applying to job postings," she said.
"It has presented a great opportunity, personally and professionally. It really has provided me with a new beginning and promising future in my career."
Tejeda and her cohort received eight weeks of training, which started with each individual brushing up on their soft skills and building confidence in their strengths before moving on to professional skills including finance, business analysis, and Agile training and certifications.
"The training is helping us figure out all the good things we can achieve as technology professionals, and that was the foundation we needed," Tejeda said. "We needed that encouragement; we needed that support. It really helped us to reveal our expectations, our character, our confidence, and also helped us remember the skills that we have, like teamwork, problem solving and leadership."
With the success of the first cohort, work is underway to scale the returners program at TD and branch out to other disciplines, such as Java software engineers.
What she considered an "impossible mission" a year ago is now a reality as Tejeda settles into her new job as a Scrum Master. Tejeda said she hopes other companies follow TD's lead and consider programs or recruitment strategies to hire people who have taken time off from work but are eager to return.
"Having that gap was like a stigma. It shouldn’t be like that. You didn’t lose your experience or lose your skills. You might need some time to ramp up again, but you're the same person, you have the same qualities, and you can bring so much to an organization," said Tejeda.
"Returning to work is exciting, and I'm really not afraid of having a career break because it doesn’t define me anymore."