LeeAnn Huggins

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Relaunching Your Career With a Returnship

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These internship-like programs are gaining popularity for women re-entering the workforce. Learn what they’re all about.

With more than eight years of experience in project management, business analysis and quality assurance, Richa Chaturvedi decided to trade her work as a scrum master for dedicating her days to raising her children. But, after a three-year break from corporate life, she was ready to find her way back in. Richa connected with Women Back to Work, an organization that’s objective is to match “returners” with companies actively recruiting talent through “returnships.” She was accepted into the Farmers Insurance returnship program and subsequently accepted a full-time offer at the company.

Returnships help women return to the workforce after an extended break. Oftentimes they’re coming back to work after being a caregiver for aging family members or children, just like Richa. These programs are structured like internships, hence the name, and allow women to re-enter the workforce in a supportive environment, one in which they can explore their interests and learn about what’s changed in their absence.

Returnships are not a new concept, as Goldman Sachs trademarked the term in 2008. These programs are gaining the attention they deserve as the post-pandemic global workforce is reimagined.

The value of returnships

While returnships are for anyone who has been away from work for any reason and any extended period of time, some companies use these programs to increase diversity. This is because women are more likely to step away to become a caregiver during their career. They give companies access to untapped areas of the talent market that may otherwise be hard to achieve. Often, soft skills are keenly honed during time away from corporate life as caregiving requires multitasking, organization, leadership, decision-making, time management skills and empathy.

There’s good reason for the concerted effort to increase gender diversity. Research from McKinsey & Company shows organizations with women at the top deliver up to 50% higher company profits and share performance. But the so-called “broken rung,” in which women are underrepresented in entry-level management positions, is still apparent – and on-the-job training may be able to make the connection. These programs go beyond entry-level positions, with Boeing’s Return Flight Program, for example, offering a range of opportunities that include highly skilled technical and engineering positions.

Each company has its own application requirements and program structures. It may be called a returning professional internship, career relaunch program, return-to-work program or career re-entry program. Typical program duration can range from a few weeks to a few months. And many provide the opportunity of a full-time offer upon completion of the program.

Companies that offer return-to-work programs show they value women who have experience and strong skill sets, even if they have gaps on their resumes. So they typically offer flexible working arrangements that benefit women’s careers as well. It’s a good bet that these companies will be supportive as you embark on a new career journey.

Other career reactivators

COVID-19 has had a disproportionate effect on women’s careers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, every one of the 140,000 jobs lost last December were jobs held by women. While returnships may not be able to solve what’s been labeled the “she-cession” single-handedly, they offer a beacon of hope for women finding workforce re-entry challenging in this labor market.

There is a growing roster of companies offering relaunch programs and companies widening eligibility requirements – and opportunities. Reported by Fortune, applications for IBM’s Tech Re-Entry Program in January and February increased 167% from a year earlier, before the pandemic. The tech giant conventionally limited its program to people out of work for at least two years but has opened the application process to those who left as recently as a year ago.

In addition to returnships, which can be competitive, there are other routes to getting back to the boardroom (albeit virtually right now). Consider these ways to restart your career:

  • Further your education. Aside from traditional degrees, consider taking certification classes or online education courses to refresh your skills.
  • Join a professional association. This may provide the opportunity to network with people in the field or take part in continuing education seminars.
  • Connect with former colleagues. Get on LinkedIn and see where your connections are working. Let them know you’re considering getting back into the workforce.
  • Strategically volunteer. Find a charity you’re passionate about and offer your time and skills. It’ll get your juices flowing again and might lead to an unexpected job prospect.
  • Hire a career coach. Especially if you’re not sure what direction you want to head, a career coach can help you rediscover your professional interests and create a plan of action to achieve your new goals.

Whether it’s only been a modest time out of the workforce or several years since you lived the corporate life, returnships provide a smooth re-entry blueprint worth exploring. Consider which companies in your desired industry offer these types of opportunities. This is the chance to start fresh. With learning as the objective, returnships should inspire you and act as a guide to launching the next chapter of your career.

Sources: npr.org; fortune.com; boeing.com; womenbacktowork.org; mckinsey.com; trademarks.justia.com

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