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Returnships May Be the Answer to Your Hiring Woes

February 11, 2022 Leadership
Virginia Backaitis
By Virginia Backaitis

Before 'The Great Resignation' we were already hearing about 'The War for Talent.'

But parents who left the workforce years ago to raise their children and adults who stepped back from their professions to care for aging parents may dismiss both as a faux phenomenon. That’s because many of these people are having trouble finding appropriate jobs, even though their credentials exceed the requirements in even the most stringent job descriptions. 

These people represent an untapped and diverse talent pool and may just be the answer to hiring managers' needs.

An Untapped Talent Pool, Ready for the Asking

Consider someone like Beth Frasco. Frasco has an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and a resume that includes working as the director of RF engineering at T-Mobile and certification as a Scrum Master. Or Cinda Amyx, who not only worked as a consultant through MIT’s predoctoral program but also has experience building data architectures and working with artificial intelligence (AI) that goes back to 2007. And then there’s Hagit Katzenelson. After taking a timeout to care for her three young kids, it took her more than five years to find work, according to Joann Lipman, writing for the Harvard Business Review.

That’s a disgrace. Companies know they need to hire a diversity of workers, according to most reports, especially if they are females in STEM careers. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that only 27% of STEM workers are female. 

A 2018 Boston Consulting Group study found that increasing the diversity of leadership teams leads to innovation and quality performance improvement. “People with different backgrounds and experiences often see the same problem in different ways and come up with different solutions, increasing the odds that one of those solutions will be a hit,” wrote the study's authors.

And while the report wasn’t focused on caregivers returning to the workplace, it did reach a worthwhile conclusion. “Sometimes we worry more about the overhead cost / time of ramping up a new candidate who has transferable skills vs. the cost / time of hiring for a candidate that already has the exact skills/experience we need.”

Related Article: Hiring Managers: Here's One Secret to Winning the War for Talent

Returnships: Easing Professionals Back Into the Workplace

This is something that Tami Forman, founder of New York City-based Path Forward, knows all about. For those who aren’t familiar, Path Forward offers companies who recognize that there’s a group of talented, well-educated individuals who have taken time away from the workforce to care for loved ones a path toward employing them successfully. This is achieved by partnering with employers to create and run mid-career internships — also known as “returnships” — that give professionals a jumpstart back to their careers, while giving companies access to a diverse, untapped talent force.

And while Path Forward and programs like it have typically been applauded for being a way to help inactive workers return to employment, smart companies are now tapping them as part of their recruiting strategies. "With job vacancies still surging and companies struggling to find enough full-time workers to meet demand, they (companies) are turning to 'returnships' … paid, three- to six-month positions that offer on-the-job training for mid-career professionals who have been out of the workforce for two years or more — and 'unretirements' as a way to fill the void,” wrote Korn Ferry executive vice president of global human resources Linda Hyman in a blog post.

But that’s hardly the only benefit, according to Noreen Allen, CMO at Bandwidth, an API platform provider. Caregivers who have completed returnships have brought an “incredible perspective on life,” she said, and become important members of “diverse, vibrant teams.”

Trey Guinn, a field technologist, office of the CTO at Cloudflare is a big fan of hiring via returnships. “You can always build on an employee’s knowledge, but life experience can’t be taught. For instance, one of my returnees had been an engineer, then took an eight-year career break. She took the time to raise her kids and do some teaching. So, in addition to having the baseline technical knowledge to do well in her role, her career break gave her the maturity, emotional intelligence, and conflict-resolution skills that other candidates often lack,” he wrote on Path Forward’s website.

Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO and co-founder iRelaunch, a pioneer in the career re-entry space, explained that while returnships offer powerful career relaunch strategies for individuals, they also provide contextual work samples and opportunities to examine cultural fit for employers.

In an article she authored for the Harvard Business Review, Fishman Cohen wrote that “professional internships (aka returnships) generally range from six weeks to six months in duration, are paid, and offer an orientation at the beginning and professional development modules throughout the program. Reentry interns work on special projects or in the actual job they would take if they successfully convert to permanent employee status. Programs usually include updating, mentoring, and coaching support features. ‘Conversion rates’ from returner  to permanent employee range from 50% to 90% depending on the program and the year.” In other words, they provide a low-risk way of hiring diverse workers which, in turn, helps to attract top talent.

More than one-third of Fortune 500 companies offer returnship/relaunch programs including Amazon, Black & Decker, CDW, Cloudflare, Credit Suisse, Deloitte, Dell, Facebook, Ford, Goldman Sachs, Grubhub, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Home Depot, NBCUniversal, Oracle, Raytheon Technologies, SAP, Vanguard, VMware and many, many more.

Employers who are interested in returnship programs can go it alone or get guidance and services from Apres, iRelaunch, Path Forward and The Mom Project among others.

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