Returnships: Unlocking New Opportunities in the Job Market

Returnships: Unlocking New Opportunities in the Job Market

A returnship can be beneficial for both the employee and employer.

The job market is a competitive field. Returning to work after a long absence can be intimidating for many people, especially when their skills and experience aren’t up-to-date. Fortunately, a new trend called “returnships” has emerged to help bridge the gap for individuals looking to return to the workforce after an extended absence. 

Investment giant Goldman Sachs was one of the first companies to introduce the concept of returnships and to use the term in 2008. The bank created a ten-week program specifically for professionals who had taken a career break and wanted to re-enter the workforce. Since then, many other companies, including Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan and General Motors, have created similar programs to support returners. 

What is returnship?

Returnship, also known as a return-to-work program, allows experienced individuals who have taken time away from their careers for whatever reason to return to the workforce with fresh insights and an updated skill set. 

Like an internship, returnship programs typically range from several weeks to a few months, which mostly lead to full-time employment. Companies offering returnship programs often have eligibility requirements, such as the industry, level of experience, subject matter expertise and length of time away from the job. They offer mentorship and training for professionals returning to the workforce without having to “start from scratch”. By refreshing their skills, they can reacclimate to the workplace more seamlessly. 

Individuals who would benefit most from this opportunity include experienced professionals taking a gap year abroad after completing a long haul project or those returning into the workforce after a long period of childcare or other life commitments. 

Decoding the benefits 

Returnships are a relatively new concept in the job market, but they offer many benefits to both employers and employees.

Upskilling returners

Returnships can serve as vital stepping stones for professionals who want to update their skills or resume credentials before entering the full-time workforce again. By taking advantage of these structured programs, individuals can get real insight into today’s modern workplace culture while preparing themselves in ways they may never have thought possible before their extended break away from work life. 

T-Mobile’s TechX Returnship is an example of how returnships can be tailored to specific industries and fields. It launched the six-month, paid pilot returnship program in 2019, looking to offer women who wished to return to the workforce in the tech space. Attracting close to 400 applicants, the program provided targeted training, development and networking opportunities in engineering, project management and analyst positions at T-Mobile’s Technology Service Delivery and Operations organization.

Since the pilot program, the company has hired 81 percent of returnship participants as full-time employees. This demonstrates the effectiveness of returnships to help individuals re-enter the workforce and for companies to bring in experienced and skilled employees.

Add diversity in hiring

According to Dr. Jo Ingold of Leeds University Business School, returnship programs can provide the chance to diversify, such as placing more females in higher roles. This is supported by recent research, which indicates that 90 percent of returnship participants were female, highlighting the value returnships can have for women looking to go back into the workforce. 

Many women take career breaks to care for their families and children, making it challenging for them to return to work after an extended absence. These programs can also benefit other individuals who have to take time off work for personal reasons, such as those with disabilities.  

Returnship programs can bring these groups of people back into the workforce, helping companies build a diverse team and thus benefitting them in several ways. It helps a company better understand and serve its customers, as well as identifying new business opportunities. It also can bring a fresh perspective and different ways of thinking to problem-solving, innovation and decision-making.

Provide a supportive and flexible transition

Studies have found that most female returners desire a flexible job after their career breaks through a returner program. Returnship programs help meet those needs and provide returners with flexibility, training and guidance to succeed in their careers. Participants can choose between part-time or full-time arrangements and either work remotely or on-site, depending on the company and their needs. 

For example, Amazon’s Returnship Program allows participants to work remotely over 16 weeks, with added support such as personalized coaching and help with childcare and elderly care.

Build employee loyalty

Returnships provide an excellent opportunity to show employees that they are valued, with the company willing to take a risk and give them a chance at restarting their careers. By welcoming back employees who have taken time off or transitioned out of the company, you are creating and reinforcing the loyalty of current employees to your company. 

Additionally, these programs also are an essential retention strategy, as employees who feel valued and supported are more likely to be engaged and committed to the company, so they are less likely to leave for other opportunities. This benefits the company by reducing the need and cost of recruiting and training new employees.

Overall, returnships can benefit both parties as long as they are designed with the right elements—flexibility, mentoring and assistance to help employees thrive and become an asset to their teams.

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