Want Experienced, Well-trained Talent? Offer a Returnship.
In the last two years, a record number of people have left their jobs. Some did so unintentionally — in the first year of the pandemic, unemployment soared to a level not seen since the 1930s — and some did so purposefully, leaving work in 2021 during the Great Resignation.
While the numbers of people who left work or lost jobs include members of every demographic, women — particularly women from marginalized backgrounds — were hardest hit. According to a report from the Brookings Institute, women suffered at the beginning of the pandemic because they are more likely to work in positions that require in-person work. Later, however, when it became clear that schools and daycares wouldn’t be going back into session, women began leaving their jobs to shoulder caregiving duties. Gusto found that the Great Resignation saw greater numbers of women than men leave the workforce, mainly due to gaps in childcare.
Now, however, that the Omicron surges are becoming less of a concern, schools and daycares are opening and many of the parents and caregivers who took time off are looking for work again. They’re competing with at least two classes of new college graduates for jobs, and those who may have seen the pandemic as an opportunity to start a new career, or who have been out of the workforce for a while, might worry about coming back to work and having to start from zero.
Fortunately, these workers can apply for returnships.
What is a returnship?
A returnship is an internship, but not for people who are brand new to the workforce. They’re geared towards people who have been out of the traditional workforce for a while. Traditionally, returnships have been offered for parents and other caregivers who took time off to take care of families, people who have been in active military service, folks who have been out of the workplace with an extended illness, or workers who have taken time off for any other reason.
Why are they important, you may ask. Can’t a worker with previous experience just… you know, apply for a job like anyone else?
Not always, even if the worker in question has great experience in the past. Imagine yourself in the following scenarios:
- Mom goes back to work
You are a parent who worked in Information Technology. You took time off to raise your children about seven years ago, and now that they’re old enough to go to school, you’re ready to start working again. But technology has changed a lot in seven years, and so has the workplace.For one thing, the half life of a learned skill is five years, and you’ve been out of the workplace for seven. For another thing, your experience is in IT, and technology has changed a lot in seven years. In fact, the half life of a technical skill is probably closer to two years, so you need to improve your skills.Lastly the workplace itself is different, and not just because of the changes caused by the pandemic. The applications and tools you used to do your job, track projects, and communicate with co-workers seven years ago may be obsolete, and new tools have replaced them. You need to learn what the new normal looks like — what tools are people in your field using, and how can you learn how to use these tools without wasting time or feeling foolish on the job?
- The pandemic ate my job
Back in March of 2020, you worked on site until you got a message from your manager: Due to COVID, you and your co-workers would have to go home. You thought you might be home for a week until someone figured out a way for you and your co-workers to get back into the workplace safely. But then, things started changing, fast. Suddenly the kids weren’t going back to school, going out for groceries was an ordeal, and you were dropping supplies off for sick friends and neighbors. Everyone was home at the same time, there was a lot to do, and you were the one doing it. Something had to give, and what gave was your job.
Now it’s been two years, and you’re ready to get back into the workplace. However, you don’t want to pick right back off where you left. Your industry may have changed, or you might be interested in remote work rather than going to a job site. A returnship will help you get back into the workforce gently, showing you how things work now — and paying you for your time.
- The burnout
You’re a respected professional who has worked several years in your field. You worked through the pandemic. You worked from home, you learned new skills, you figured out how to do your job with new stressors and restrictions, and while you were working, you realized something: you didn’t like your job. In fact, you were tired of giving your all to a job you just weren’t all that passionate about. And for what? The pandemic showed you that disaster could change everything in a moment. Why not make your own changes?
So when the first wave of resignations was reported in the spring of 2021, it made you think: what would you do if you could do something else? Could you change careers? There were a lot of positions open, after all. By the time you handed in your own resignation, you had an idea about what you’d like to do, but there was a problem: how were you going to get into a new field without starting in an entry level position you’re likely overqualified for? Just as importantly, how would you find a salary commensurate with the pay you’re leaving behind as you learn the field?
All three of the above workers can benefit from a return-to-work program like a returnship, which allows them to move to a career after a break without having to start over from square one.
How does a returnship work?
Returnships work differently at various organizations; in many cases they last from a few weeks to a few months, and they include extra coaching and training so the workers can catch up on developments they missed when they were out of the workforce.
Some returnships are designed to lead to a full time job. Others are temporary job placements that may or may not lead to full time work. Take the returnship programs created by Path Forward, a nonprofit which partners with companies to build return-to-work programs. Those programs are specifically described as temporary positions; the company decides whether or not to make the hire at the end of the program. (However, Path Forward says that 80% of returnships end in full time employment.)
One example of a Path Forward program is the returnship offered by SAP: a 20-week paid returnship for experienced professionals who are returning to the workforce after taking time off for caregiving. This program is open to individuals who have at least five years of professional experience and have been out of the paid workforce for at least two years.
Other returnships have different conditions, and may be aimed at career changers or returning veterans.
Why offer a returnship?
According to Women Return to Work, recruiters tend not to look too closely at job candidates with significant gaps in their resume. This makes for a frustrating job hunt for workers who have been out of the workforce — particularly women. It also means that there’s a rich, untapped pool of experienced talent looking for a job. All they need is a little help to get back into the workforce.
Returnships are also a way to diversify your workforce. Although men are also looking for work (and should absolutely apply for returnships), if you’re looking to hire more senior-level women, returnships are an excellent way to find candidates you may not necessarily find through a recruiter. In turn, these women can help build a pipeline for mentoring younger women in the future.
Lastly, when you offer a returnship, you know you’re offering the support your returners need to seamlessly integrate with your organization. You’re not hiring someone and expecting them to learn on the job with no training. Instead you’re providing a long, well-planned onboarding so they can succeed at your organization.